Estate Regeneration Fund: Lessons learned and best practice

In August 2021, the One Public Estate (OPE) programme and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) awarded £14.2m Estate Regeneration funding to projects across England. Project leads shared lessons they learned and best practice.

Blue banner with logos of Office of Government property, Department for Levelling up, housing and Communities, and the LGArnment property

The projects benefiting from the Estate Regeneration fund are addressing a number of key themes, which are likely to be common across estate regeneration projects. Project leads shared the lessons they learned and best practice around the themes of:

  • resident engagement and involvement
  • wider place making and sustainability
  • tenant decanting (move out of property due to repairs, demolition, redevelopment/land acquisition).

Resident engagement and involvement

A number of projects raised the issue of lack of funding certainty and the impact this can have on resident engagement: 

  • Consistent resident engagement throughout the life of a long term regeneration project is a challenge when there is ongoing uncertainty on wider resources to support that regeneration. This means that there can be a lack of clarity and information for the community in which phases will be progressed and when.
  • Resident’s voices are important in ensuring the right decisions are made on place making and place keeping for current and future generations. Differing bidding and delivery deadlines for grant elements make this a challenge and mean there is often not the time to carry out more detailed engagement on particular schemes.
  • Thought must be given to the risk of ‘raising expectations’ by the very process of such engagement. Should funding not become (or cease to be) available, there may be negative implications for local elected politicians and/or reputational damage for local authorities.
  • It is also important to have flexibility in situations such as where some stakeholders may not be in an immediate position to fulfil financial obligations, the absence of such potentially reducing the viability of a scheme or rendering it impractical.

The type of engagement and stage at which it starts also emerged as a key theme to the success of a project. Projects agreed that early engagement with all stakeholders ensures overall support for the proposed works. Various engagement methods have been used across the projects:

  • Regular newsletters have been provided to residents keeping them abreast of overall progress, impart important safety information regarding building sites, and provide wider information to the community on activities such as the provision of summer holiday activities and trips in partnership with a local community group.
  • Illustrative notice boards were installed at prominent sites to provide residents with visual impressions of the improved properties.
  • Career support programmes focusing on employment, training, wellbeing and mutual support also proved a useful tool in achieving high levels of engagement and participation.
  • The Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council's Church Lane North regeneration project converted an existing property on the estate to serve as a Community Hub which enabled them to have a focus for the residents group meetings, drop ins and small meetings on site:
    • The provision of an estate caretaker (with an apprentice) based on site for the duration of the works to maintain the look of the estate and address issues was also beneficial.
    • Having a physical presence on site was just one of the multiple routes to engage with Beyond Housing, the housing provider delivering the project, and the contractor.
    • Early in the project Beyond Housing set up a Facebook group for residents which now has over 500 members. They added an update of work completed and work to commence every Friday with photographs of progress from the previous week. This has allowed openness and provided accountability to address issues as they arise in an open forum. They also carried out consistent short/focused community insight surveys repeated at mid-point planned for the end of the works. Lessons learned include the need for clarity and communication on the content and regularity of surveys, as well as the need to demonstrate what action would flow from the feedback received.
  • The Calderdale Councils' Beech Hill Phase 2 Group Repair Scheme project needed an engagement process that not only gained resident buy-in but also financial contributions where the properties were rented out, owner occupiers incurred no cost:
    • Individual landlords were contacted to gauge their agreement to make a contribution towards the cost of the works. Whilst all landlords contacted confirmed their support for the scheme, several indicated that they would most likely be unable to afford a contribution from their existing resources other than a token amount. An internal agreement was obtained for any landlord unable to pay such an amount upon completion of the works to have the debt secured against their property. No interest would accrue to the debt.
    • A number of owners requested additional works to their property be carried out at the same time as the repair scheme utilising the contractor appointed for the repair works. However the scope of the construction contract didn't allow for this to happen.

While a housing provider can achieve a great deal working independently, working in partnership can make a real demonstrable difference to successful delivery and legacy generation.

Wider place making and sustainability

The redevelopment of Bacton Low Rise Estate in the London Borough of Camden includes demolition of existing homes and the redevelopment of the estate to higher quality standards of design, space standards and sustainability. This will have a positive environmental impact as well as support residents with tackling fuel poverty, at a time of rising energy costs. Measures include:

  • reduction of heating demand and consumption through design
  • recycling 100 per cent of materials from the site demolition
  • subject to planning, it is expected that renewable, low carbon energy will be used to provide heating and hot water for the new homes
  • a largely car free development and provision of new pedestrian links and cycle parking
  • measures for biodiversity enhancement and sustainable urban drainage systems.

From the outcome of their Hurst Farm Community Hub renovation project, Derbyshire Dales District Council have summarised ten key lessons and best practice on wider place making which they learned:

1. Bring in a landscape architect, or similar skill set if possible

Within our experience we found that the particular skill set and experience of a landscape architect as the regeneration manager enabled us to develop and push forward the project in a way that the Council would probably not have otherwise been able to conceive otherwise. Having this capacity in-house means that other internal expertise can be brought together, designs can be developed and costed, which in turn facilitates the ability to apply for further funding more successfully.

2. Do a detailed survey of the people, the place and space to know it well. Within this identify all existing issues and resources. Then try and use the resources to create new solutions for the issues thinking outside of the box

We found that in depth site analysis is crucial at the start of the project. We found that for a regeneration vision to be successful, it needed us to weave together multiple layers looking at the opportunities present in the space to address as many of the key issues and concerns as possible. The emerging projects should interlink and support each other, creating a complete picture and through it a strong appealing narrative.

3. We found people respond well to consultation using a 3D model of the area (Planning for Real)

With the school children at the local primary school we were able to make a physical 3D model representation of the Hurst Farm estate. Within it we created about 1,000 individual flags with suggestions spanning eight key themes. Residents were asked to place flags describing their concerns, or aspirations into relevant areas on the map. Every flag was counted and logged. This then gave us a clear overview of what the priorities for residents are, what issues we needed to work on and what projects to set up, which was used as a foundation for the vision we created. We found that residents enjoyed this interactive ‘Planning for Real’ approach.

4. Develop a dedicated funding and economic strategy to go with your regeneration vision and bring in expertise to support you, such as experienced consultants or organisations.

We found that a vision in itself is not enough and that it is important to invest also in developing a detailed funding strategy alongside. We found that the upfront financial investment in an experienced funding consultant to work with us, develop a tailored funding strategy and help us write the bids really paid off. In this way we managed to turn the seed corn funding of £180k into a £3.5m money tree for Hurst Farm securing additional grant funding over 5 years with a further £2m funding identified and planned for.

5. Build a strong partnerships with all relevant organisations, community groups, services that have an interest in the space and the community

In order to grow an inspired vision the regeneration manager needs to visit experienced and successful projects, have time to attend relevant conferences and to undertake relevant professional development. We found that good examples and mentoring is important for regeneration projects to grow successfully. We were lucky enough to forge a strong link to the Sheffield Green Estate organisation, which has been involved in regenerating the Sheffield Manor Estate over the past 25 years.

6. Use a social enterprise approach as a vehicle to create a wider change and leave a lasting legacy and support the community. This includes looking at building social enterprise and volunteer networks to help develop new ways to maintain parks and open Green Spaces

Following the learning from the Sheffield Green Estate our aim is to enable the Hurst Farm community to become financially self-sufficient by building a fleet of viable social enterprises that can sustain the delivery of projects and services into the future. To ensure an integrated approach it is important to work together with local partners and stakeholders and to build social capacity within the local community.

As an example we invested in building a strong partnership with our local primary school and community group to develop more outdoor play in the school and wider estate. We enabled local residents and school staff to train together to become forest school leaders, facilitated joint outdoor play training and are now supporting the residents in developing a social enterprise to deliver forest school for all of Matlock.

7. A Community Development and Business Development role working on the ground is essential

Having a community development officer on the ground, working with the community, running activities and supporting capacity building was also crucial for our project. Developing a vision with a community is not enough. The vision needs to be activated on the ground.

8. As a council try and facilitate asset transfers across to the community social enterprises to create more community assets

The Council welcomes, facilitates and has offered asset transfers to community groups where appropriate and supports them in taking on the assets sustainably. This is what we have done as part of the regeneration project on Hurst Farm. We have offered the directors (members from the local community) that are running the Farmer’s View the opportunity to take on the building and land. This offer was accepted and went through in May 2022. Since then, the directors have also accepted the ownership of the land behind the building from a local developer with plans of expanding their external beer garden and adding play facilities.

As the project develops further and community capacity grows we have plans for more assets to potentially be transferred, or acquired.

9. It pays to invest resource in creating shovel ready projects that are ready and waiting for when funding opportunities are made available

This is difficult as officer capacity is scarce and funding is not often available to enable development work. But experience shows that it pays to develop projects in advance where possible, to be able to apply for one-off funding opportunities.

10. Put children and young people at the heart of your vision

Focusing on the children and young people is perhaps the most important. The wish to create a good future for their children drives the Hurst Farm community. Funding is needed to ensure young people from deprived communities have the development opportunities needed to grow into their full potential to live healthy and happy lives, and for them to become activators and leaders for change in their communities. We found that revenue funding for such activity is scarce in current times and not having access to this has held our project back.

We found that such revenue funding is scarce in current times and not having access to this has held our project back.

Tenant decanting land acquisition

Thoughts from funded projects on this theme included:

  • Developing a series of commitments agreed with members of the local community and in particular for those who need to move as part of the regeneration. These included dedicated and tailored support for households who need to move, at least a year's notice for anyone who needs to move, guarantee that the move can be to a home of the same type and number of bedrooms and all residents who want to stay living within the town centre will be able to do so.
  • Sharing great stories from tenants who have moved into the new homes built as part of the regeneration.
  • Develop an equity assistance scheme to support leaseholders to move.
  • As a result of their Heart of Greenstead project, Colchester City Council had two pieces of advice on tenant decant/land acquisition to share so far:
    • Being more definitive about the anticipated timeline for completing the land acquisition – Unfortunately, due to a challenging period of negotiation, the original project timeline slipped, causing further delays to other aspects of the scheme. A clear lesson here would have been to establish a deadline from the start, with all parties agreeing prior to starting negotiations.
    • Obtaining independent property advice – At the start of the negotiations the council decided to appoint their own property advisor to value the properties and ascertain their condition. This turned out to be a wise decision as there was a vast difference in the advice given by their valuer, and the advisor representing the seller. Had they not taken this decision the council would have been left with very little room to negotiate. So, it is important to obtain a second and independent opinion.