Whitepaper: How is construction transforming the UK in the form of urban regeneration?

Across the UK, and globally, the vast majority of people live in cities. In 1950s Britain, 79% of the UK population lived in cities. This was already a fairly significant share but by 2030 this figure is predicted to rise to 92.2%. So, we are a nation of urbanites and that has some very significant challenges for the government, for planners and developers – and for the construction industry as a whole. In particular, there are many wasted urban areas where decay and destruction have made parts of our towns and cities unappealing or uninhabitable.

The construction sector has a central role to play in UK urban regeneration, which in turn will transform the way that our urban areas are able to support the demands of an increasingly large city-based population. In this whitepaper we will look at what urban regeneration is, the challenges and environmental concerns that arise, as well as what makes a successful regeneration project.

Why we love city living

According to the United Nations, by 2030 one in three people will be living in a city with at least half a million inhabitants. The appeal of our cities is broad and extends to virtually every demographic. From being a melting pot of cultures, through to the location of the highest paid jobs and the most exciting career opportunities, urban living has a lot to offer.

One of the ways in which governments all over the world are seeking to cope with the increase in demand for residential housing in cities is via urban regeneration. But what is urban regeneration and how will it solve the key issues?

Defining urban regeneration

Urban regeneration is, fundamentally, an attempt to reverse decline. It is an all-encompassing term that includes anything designed to reconstruct built up areas, especially where there is evidence of decay. Many of the UK’s towns and cities are home to neighbourhoods that have fallen into a state of urban decay. Abandoned warehouses, decrepit buildings and infrastructure that is simply not maintained can be found in just about every city.

The UK construction sector has been involved in urban regeneration for decades. It began in the late 19th century and accelerated considerably in the 1940s when the UK’s towns and cities needed significant reconstruction after World War II. There are many reasons why urban decay can begin to take an area over, including the collapse of local manufacturing and industry, as well as low employment rates.

How does urban regeneration work?

The bare mechanics of regeneration usually involve the area in question being taken into the ownership of a redevelopment authority. The authority will manage the process of reconstruction and identify a number of developers who will be able to fulfill the function of reconstituting the land and regenerating it for other purposes.

There are two key elements to urban regeneration. The first involves plans to improve the physical structure of the area in question – which is where the construction industry has such a crucial part to play. The second element covers steps taken to try to improve the local economy of an area that has fallen into decay.

Key characteristics of urban regeneration

No two urban regeneration projects are the same – each one will be completely unique based on the needs and features of the local economy, area and population. However, there are some key characteristics that tend to be common to many of the urban regeneration schemes in existence.

Creating new residential housing is an important part of the project

Uninhabitable areas take up valuable space in cities where increasing numbers of people are looking to live. As a result, many urban regeneration projects have a focus on residential housing. The housing crisis in the UK is significant. According to research by Heriot-Watt University, there is a backlog of 3.91 million homes meaning that 340,000 new homes need to be created every year until 2031 to meet minimum need. Construction businesses involved in regeneration projects can create new properties in areas that become increasingly more desirable as somewhere to live to help meet this need.

Reversing social exclusion zones

Many inner city areas today are characterised by low levels of employment and inadequate housing. The local economy may suffer significantly as a result. Plus, residents may find that they are trapped within a decaying area and are socially excluded from wealthier parts of the city. Regeneration can revitalise an area where urban decay has taken over, attract investment and ensure a higher standard of living.

Unique problem solving

According to the British Urban Regeneration Association, regeneration should lead “to the resolution of urban problems and…bring about a lasting improvement in the economic, physical, social and environmental condition of an area.” So, every reconstruction and regeneration project starts with an evaluation of the issues that exist and that have created a situation where decay has been able to thrive. There are common themes to urban decay, including low unemployment and a lack of local investment, but each area will have its own unique set of problems to address.

Building sustainable local communities

Urban regeneration is designed to be a permanent solution to the problem of urban decay – not something that has to be repeated in another decade. A successful urban regeneration project will create a sustainable local community that can deliver on an economic level as well as meeting the needs of local people, now and in the future.

Urban regeneration is built on partnerships

There are a lot of potential stakeholders involved in an urban regeneration project. And the projects themselves can be sizeable and ambitious. Partnerships are essential to ensure that the right balance of action and analysis is applied to the area, that all parties involved are flexible and that the solutions intended are the right fit for local challenges.

Environmental concerns

The purpose of urban regeneration is to create positive change in inner city environments. So, environmental concerns – in every sense of the word – tend to be at the forefront when projects are up for approval.  Corporate social responsibility is tightly linked to urban regeneration projects today.

Construction sector businesses – as well as all the other partner companies and organisations involved – will need to be able to demonstrate the benefits of projects to the entire community, and that they are being responsibly delivered. An important part of this is ensuring that the process of urban regeneration does not do damage to the local environment.

Eco friendly development

The construction sector is often criticised for a lack of environmental awareness, whether that is in terms of the sustainability of materials used or the impact of a development site on its immediate surroundings. Urban regeneration projects must have involvement from a wide range of stakeholders in the local area to ensure that all needs and considerations are being taken into account. This may be the necessity of eco friendly development that won’t exacerbate existing problems, such as air pollution, or a focus on true sustainability in terms of the construction to be built.

The impact of the quality of a local environment

A local environment has a huge affect on its population, especially when it comes to health and wellbeing.  Development that integrates environmental concerns will be essential to ensure that there is no negative impact. As urban decay is reversed, the overall effect should be to significantly improve the local environment so as to also upgrade the experience of the local population in health and wellbeing terms. That could be something as simple as reducing congestion, removing pollution sources or creating more green areas that have a positive environmental impact and are good for human health too.

Sustainability and urban regeneration

One major concern for urban regeneration is the impact that larger towns and cities may have on the environment. Those who live in towns and cities are already the majority consumers of increasingly high volumes of natural resources. Redeveloping decaying urban areas to increase the size of populations in the UK’s towns and cities has caused concern among many environmentalists in terms of the overall impact this is likely to have on the natural environment. This is especially so when considering that we are already using 50% more natural resources than the planet could ever replenish. And 75% of that natural resource consumption is coming from the populations of towns and cities.

So, one of the biggest environmental challenges for any urban regeneration project is to create genuinely sustainable communities. This includes everything, from the way that buildings use and preserve heat through to the impact construction has on the way that the humans occupying the buildings live their lives. More environmentally friendly development that is focused on reducing energy usage, creating healthier lifestyles that are also sustainable, and minimising emissions has a key role to play in meeting the environmental challenges of any urban regeneration project.

The construction sector and modern urban regeneration

There are significant advantages for the construction sector in getting involved in the wave of urban generation that is currently taking place. From the opportunity to increase revenues, to being involved in increasingly more innovative development, the benefits are many. However, there are also some challenges for the construction sector in responding to the needs of urban reconstruction.

Changing environmental standards

As mentioned, urban regeneration projects have heightened awareness when it comes to environmental impact. For construction sector businesses it’s crucial to stay on top of environmental requirements, which can change as the regulatory environment does. A close inspection of processes and infrastructure may also be required in order to ensure that environmental impact has been minimised.

The balance of profit and objectives

Projects must be profitable to be viable but that should not be the sole purpose of urban regeneration. These projects tend to be more accountable than many other types of construction and so there is often a need to demonstrate how a range of stakeholders is being served and that there is a long-term perspective in place.

Local planning regulation

Local planning laws in the UK can go back more than 150 years and the system can be notoriously time consuming and complex to navigate. Many a project has been stalled or delayed as a result of planning issues that take significant time to resolve. So, the web of planning law and regulation remains a serious challenge for the construction industry when it comes to urban regeneration.

Preserving historic construction

Architecture and historic construction can cause serious obstacles for urban reconstruction, especially where there are local interests keen to ensure that existing structures are preserved. There is a balance to be found between identifying construction that is salvageable and at the same time building new, vibrant, livable communities.

Partnerships and relationships

Urban regeneration projects are frequently so large that they involve multiple partnerships in order to achieve set objectives. This can be a challenge for management, no matter what size the company. The right infrastructure for each project is essential to ensure that there is sufficient monitoring and management to achieve set goals.

Urban regeneration – what does a successful outcome look like?

Urban regeneration isn’t always an easy process. There may be local objections and some projects have had to deal with high levels of suspicion, sometimes even hostility. Planning issues, budget problems and the challenges that exist in trying to find the right partners and balance of stakeholder interests can be significant. Despite this, many reconstruction and regeneration projects do make it through to completion and go on to create positive and sustainable change. Although success is going to look different every time, there are some clear signs that a project has had a positive outcome.

Public spaces have been obviously improved

This is an aesthetic result that is easy to judge by walking into a regenerated area. Improvement is simply enhancing what was there before, whether that is the look and feel of the area or cleanliness and environment.

The area is desirable

No one wants to live in a part of the city that is riddled with urban decay. So, an obvious positive outcome of urban regeneration is that the area affected once again becomes a desirable location in which to live. This isn’t just about increasing house prices but also the quality and size of the local community. As an area becomes more appealing, jobs may flow in to help reduce unemployment. Investment may be directed at local infrastructure and more skilled workers move in.

A better living environment

Improving the living environment is a major goal for urban regeneration and success can be measured in terms of the health and wellbeing of the local population after the change has taken place. This is particularly so because urban living does not always create the healthiest environment for humans – successful urban regeneration projects help to mitigate this to a certain extent.

Ensuring social diversity

Although urban regeneration is designed to attract new residents and make areas more desirable, it cannot be considered a success if the end result of this is to make the area unaffordable for those who already live there. Social diversity is crucial for inner city areas to avoid exclusion and division. Where urban regeneration is successful the entire area enjoys an upgrade in terms of environment and amenities but this doesn’t exclude those from certain socio-economic backgrounds.

Making positive change

A regeneration project is a prime opportunity to foster positive change in an urban environment and to reduce negative dependencies. The use of cars in cities is probably the most obvious negative dependency that urban areas struggle with. Reconstruction projects can make a big difference with the infrastructure and environment that they create. For example, some regeneration projects have recently adopted a “10-minute neighbourhood” structure which is designed around the idea that local residents don’t need to walk for more than 10 minutes to access all the amenities they need to live.

Innovative development

There are many ways to add value via regeneration, from breathing new live into a sluggish local economy to using urban regeneration to develop new, creative opportunities for urban living. Construction is a truly innovative industry and urban regeneration is one area where this can really thrive. When projects introduce change and add value then success is inevitable.

Long-term solutions

There is perhaps no other more reliable sign of a successful regeneration project than long-term success. While this is difficult to read initially, over time those developments that have been carefully planned and executed, acknowledging stakeholders and need on a local level, will demonstrate that they have become truly sustainable communities.If you’re keen to find out more about urban regeneration contact The RG Group team today.

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