Summit 2020: Land and assets for resilience

With only two days left of 2020, we here at CLES are thinking about hope in the darkness and the prospect of local economic reform as we commence the long journey to Covid-19 recovery. In this spirit we’re sharing write ups of our policy breakout sessions from November’s Community Wealth Building Summit. Following on from John and Ellie’s blogs, today Stuart MacDonald looks at how socially productive uses of land, property and assets can support post Covid-19 local economies.

How land and property assets are owned and managed is key to local economic outcomes. Concentrated land ownership, property speculation and landlord absenteeism all drive inequality. Wealth gained from land and property leaks out of local economies, contributing to a lack of resilience, as well as being incompatible with social and environmental progress.

These issues were prominent before the Covid-19 pandemic but will be further exacerbated by the economic damage associated with it. Businesses in retail, leisure and hospitality are at risk of failure, leaving previously struggling high streets – community assets in their own right – vulnerable to speculative acquisition. Policy responses may further exacerbate this, with the possibility of more use of permitted development rights, allowing planning changes to be made without permission. Furthermore, it is expected that some planning powers will be transferred from local authorities to development corporations in England.

The post-Covid-19 landscape may also see permanent changes to land, property and the physical infrastructure of places. These include reduced demand for office accommodation, the need for more walking and cycling infrastructure and less emphasis on concentrated development in town and city centres. The pandemic has also highlighted the significant importance and public value of nature and common spaces.

“recovery and reform requires a co-ordinated approach to place management and development”

Local economic recovery and reform requires a co-ordinated approach to place management and development, where local land and property are regarded as wealth creators from which communities, not global investors, benefit.

“supporting people and places to build value in spaces”

People value rather than site value has been the focus of the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool and Liam Kelly, its Chair, challenged CLES’s long-held view that wholesale planning reforms are needed. Instead, he argued that the planning system has vital checks and balances, and before stripping this away we should be looking at supporting people and places to build value in spaces.

The Baltic Triangle is enjoying a steady renaissance making it one of “the” places to set up shop and hang out in Liverpool. This process has been led by an anchor landlord, the socially responsive Baltic Creative CIC. In the early 2000s, when the Baltic Triangle was largely derelict and empty of residents, a group of likeminded voices came together to find a way to stop the displacement of creative and digital businesses by developers and market forces. They wanted to stop the cycle of creative companies and artists moving into rundown areas for their cheap rents, gradually revitalising them, then being forced out when profit-driven developers eventually take over.

The idea was simple: what if the creative and digital sector owned the property it was regenerating? So instead of being nudged out as values rose, the sector benefited and was able to reinvest in itself. With the help of Liverpool Vision, Baltic Creative CIC secured a £4.5m grant from ERDF and NWDA, which was used to purchase and refurbish 18 warehouses.

“the power dynamics in land and property markets shape our places”

Lorenza Casini, Associate Principal at sustainable design and research consultancy URBED, talked passionately about how the power dynamics in land and property markets shape our places. To develop our land and property in a fair and just way that delivers for all, we need to invest the time and effort required.

While it may take longer, a genuine approach based on the principles of co-production and co-design actually brings benefits for all. While many developers have good intentions and want to work in locally meaningful ways and can see the value of being in it for the long haul, we need an approach and mechanisms which encourage, foster and enable this.

“meaningful engagement requires skills, ones that we have been slow to invest in”

The time, energy and thoughtfulness required needs investment from all parties. If the development of land and property is to be pursued in an equal partnership then we need to provide local people with the opportunity to engage on a level playing field. In this we need to learn how to hold conversations with intent. Creating meaningful engagement requires skills, ones that we have been slow to invest in. We need those who lead on community engagement exercises to have good training, to understand what it requires to have meaningful conversations in a particular place at a particular time.

Local authorities are stretched, but there are a growing number of models that can support wider actors to come in and help shape a place. Mechanisms that promote social justice – co-production, co-design – can be employed to ensure that everyone benefits from the building of good places to live.

“Dereliction impacts on people’s quality of life […] represents a huge lost opportunity (cost) to build community wealth”

Kathie Pollard, Policy Officer at the Scottish Land Commission shared with us the recommendations of the Commission’s taskforce on Vacant & Derelict land. In Scotland there are an estimated 11,000 hectares of vacant derelict land, twice the size of Dundee, and some of this has been derelict for more than 30 years. Its estimated that 1/3rd of the population live within 500m of a vacant or derelict site, and this rises to 55% in the most deprived locations. Dereliction impacts on people’s quality of life, it has a negative impact on wellbeing, community cohesion, and the local environment. It also represents a huge lost opportunity (cost) to build community wealth.

We’re extremely grateful for the input of our speakers and our audience for this wide ranging session. The audience elevated the discussion further, by posing a number of probing questions and thoughtful questions. We’ve left the comments open on this write up in the spirit of that debate – please do add your thoughts below.

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