Lessons on regeneration and levelling up from the Netherlands
RITTERWALD directors Austen Reid and Ad Hereijgers provide tips on how levelling up can work to create sustainable urban regeneration.
The UK and the Netherlands share a similar post-1945 planning tradition in land use. Both countries achieved impressive results including several new towns and urban transformations (e.g. through riverfront redevelopment). However, the durability of these results has proved different in each country.
This can partly be explained by the volatility in government policies and weighting given to the market, community, and individual interests.
Ultimately both countries faced similar challenges; the impact of globalisation, the transition from traditional heavy industry and manufacturing to a service oriented economy, cultural diversity, immigration and new forms of urban governance. So the two countries approach levelling up from the same start line.
Levelling up is a must have
A safe and affordable home is a necessary condition for a household’s wellbeing. The same can be said about levelling up except it is a condition for the nation’s wellbeing. Both are strongly related and are key to building sustainable communities for the future. Meeting both conditions at the same time is very challenging, but failure to address the geographical inequalities highlighted in the levelling up white paper is no longer an option. Levelling up will impact the economic geography in a positive way, both among regions and among neighbourhoods in the same town or city.
“It is about more than providing one-time financial capital; it takes long term dedicated human capital.”
The levelling up white paper is comprehensive in its analysis and a solid basis for dedicated regeneration efforts in the decades to come. With an optimistic take on local leadership and a high sense of urgency the white paper provides a roadmap and transparency to the allocation of resources by government in the post-Brexit era and beyond the EU regional development policy and funds.
Place-based private sector investments can effectively leverage government funding. Public and private investments show both CAPEX and OPEX characteristics; it is about more than providing onetime financial capital; it takes long term dedicated human capital.
Wider scope levelling up
Experience in the Netherlands extended to the regeneration of large 1950-1960s estates in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague; including preservation and functional enhancement of cultural heritage (old industrial towns in Eindhoven and Zaandam), re-use of buildings and old elevated rail track (Rotterdam) and multiple high street regenerations (Rotterdam).
In these projects we dealt with similar issues that are mentioned in the white paper, including gentrification, mixed use, safety, public space, land value capture, the built environment and integrated public transport.
“Regeneration only works with both feet firmly on the ground and creation of the public-private partnership, in these cases with residents and local businesses.”
One such scheme was the brownfield redevelopment of Hembrug Zaanstad, which cost in excess of £300m. The project transformed 110 acres of contaminated, government-owned brownfield into 1,000+ home mixed income housing. The redevelopment plan was set up within 12 months and included commercial real estate and a public park.
The success factors of these case studies inform the response to the Levelling Up White Paper. However, we have experienced what does work, and by trial and error, what doesn’t. And regeneration only works with both feet firmly on the ground and creation of the public-private partnership, in these cases with residents and local businesses. So before starting these necessary pre-conditions upfront must be met.
To all the local professionals and local politicians seeking guidance on the implementation of the white paper in their backyard, we give the following advice:
- Take your time: Successfully restoring the physical and social fabric of local communities does not happen overnight. On the contrary it will cost you some sleepless nights. It takes energy and dedication. Take it step by step. Do not rush but keep the momentum going. The process when delivered well is very rewarding.
- Comprehensive approach is the only way: There is no Dutch or British approach in urban regeneration. The only approach is comprehensive and inclusive: engage all stakeholders (also -expected- opponents), balance physical and social-cultural aspects, think in terms of ‘mix to the max’, and celebrate small successes regularly.
- Work with the best: Engage only dedicated professionals and volunteers. Skill sets can be learnt, commitment is required from the start to the end. Being street wise will help. Community leadership should be empowered to inform the supply chain (designers, architects, social workers, retailers) to bring them to the next level. It is a team effort.
- Plan first, budget second: This last one may surprise the reader, but it tells something about the facilitating role of government, also mentioned in the white paper. We have never seen a good well thought of and implemented plan without a professional debate about the needed budget. However, we have seen the opposite: funds allocated upfront without a good plan in place; In our experience that is a guarantee for failure.
And finally, you cannot only rely on residents and businesspeople for local intelligence, in most cases there are also social landlords acting as anchor institutions in local communities already committed to transforming people’s lives. They need to be accommodated and engaged from the start.