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Are mixed tenure policies achieving their objectives?

Are mixed tenure policies achieving their objectives?

Arabella Stewart-Leslie 29 Nov 2018
Tenure mixing, and mixed income communities have become an essential component underpinning residential development in Scotland. Policies aimed at achieving tenure diversification have been introduced in response to ongoing issues of geographically concentrated poverty, social exclusion and a lack of affordable housing. Tenure diversification within new developments seeks to address these problems through the aspiration that high income earners in an area will provide support to less well-off members of society, thereby allowing social mixing, reducing concentrated poverty, and minimising prejudiced views. Evidence that has informed this thinking has been widespread from research completed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF)[1], The Scottish Government,[2] and GoWell[3]. The belief that mixed tenure developments will address social issues comes mainly from the acknowledgment that in areas in which majority of the housing tenure is socially rented there are higher levels of violent crime, lower educational attainment and poorer health. Shown below are the general proposed benefits of mixed communities found throughout my research: Concentrated areas of urban disadvantage lead to residents being disadvantaged, therefore suggesting that mixed communities decrease the likelihood of residents being stigmatised by the place that they live. Across the UK, the promotion of tenure diversification has been undertaken largely through planning policy, which has been implemented at both national and local level. Within Scotland this aim is promoted through Scottish Planning Policy (SPP). To achieve these goals the SPP makes several provisions. Firstly, to achieve affordable housing but also promoting mixed tenure communities, Section 75 agreements are implemented. Like Section 106 agreements in England, these agreements work as a method of securing developer’s contributions through the planning system. In 2008 the Scottish Government published a revision to ‘Scottish Planning Policy SPP3: Planning for Homes’[1], which sets a benchmark of 25% affordable units for any development of more than 12 units The SPP also sets out broad objectives to achieving mixed tenure stating that “development plans should encourage the creation of mixed communities rather than single-tenure developments. As far as possible, tenure of housing should be indiscernible from its design, quality or appearance.”[2] But have these policies influenced how people and places relate to each other and are residents mixing? Firstly, the policies and objectives set out in the SPP aren’t particularly strong e.g. ‘opportunity for the creation of mixed communities will not necessarily be applicable to every site’[3] meaning limited weight may be attached to ensuring these policies are actively achieving their objectives.  Also without clear cut policies it makes it difficult to review their success. Additionally, evidence on the success of mixed tenure communities in creating social mixing is difficult to ascertain and is often mixed and variable, differing between studies. These difficulties are acknowledged by key advocates JRF. Research highlights from the works such as GoWell and others such as Bond et al[4] and Sautkina et al[5] show that that social mixing within these communities is predominantly at a superficial level and social integration is, in most cases, down to individual preferences and not as a product of their environment. Social mixing is much more successful between school children due to the fact they do not hold preconceived ideas of social mixing. Furthermore, wider geographical stigmatisation is often reproduced on a smaller scale within these developments. This can lead to blocks or areas of development being stigmatized due to the type of tenure within them. This is often related to home-owners’ expectations about whether or not landlords are likely to address antisocial behaviour by, or perceived to be caused by, social housing tenants. A common result of regeneration and mixed tenure policies is the loss of social networks which can be vital to people’s livelihoods. As affordable units can come forward through any new development this can lead to existing social networks being spread all over a city. Some mixed tenure schemes are significantly more successful than others and this often directly relates to the quality of design (ensuring a strong tenure blind approach) and the range of tenure types and sizes of properties available. A good example of this in the Pennywell urban regeneration project in Edinburgh which has a mix of detached, semi-detached and low-rise flats for private sale, social rent and mid-market rent. [1] Scottish Government, ‘Planning for Homes’ Revised 2009, Paragraph 94[2] Scottish Government, ‘Planning for Homes’ Revised 2009, Paragraph 80[3] Scottish Government, ‘Planning for Homes’ Revised 2009, Paragraph 81[4] Bond et all, ‘Mixed Messages about Mixed Tenure: Do Reviews Tell the Real Story?’ 2012[5] Sautkina et al ‘Mixed evidence on mixed tenue effects: findings from a systematic review of UK Studies (1995-2009) 2012[1] Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘Developing and sustaining mixed tenure housing developments’ 2008[2] Scottish Government ‘ Mixed Communities – Literature Review 2011[3] GoWell, Website: Key findings 2015  

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The case for the high street – part two
This blog follows on from my blog last week, describing our research into the issues facing town centres in the North East, and our findings following the roundtables we held in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Hexham, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Stanley. In this second instalment, I look at the recommendations coming out of our work with the North-East England Chamber of Commerce (NEECC), and the need for a holistic approach in making our centres fit for the twenty-first century.    There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to ‘saving’ the high street. If there was, then we would have cracked the problem long before now. Each and every town centre is different. That goes as much for the approach of traders towards engaging with other stakeholders as it does to the retail offer and shopping environment provided. Whilst the Business Improvement Districts (BID) in Newcastle-upon-Tyne has racked up some impressive achievements – increasing average spend by 16% in a three-year period – that in Hexham (in nearby Northumberland) has ended up in relative acrimony. Their success can only be achieved through effective collaboration but, as my colleague Summer Haly has highlighted in her own blog, they can play a significant role in generating economic growth. With the views from the roundtables held in these and three other town centres (Hexham, Berwick and Stanley) at the forefront of our minds, our joint (NEECC/Lichfields) report provides recommendations in four key areas. 1. Creating a vision The single-most important objective should be to create a vision of what town centres should look like and offer to visitors - enshrining this in a strategy, with a set of short, medium and long-term actions. One or more Unique Selling Points (USP) should be developed as part of this vision, and then promoted along with every aspect of the centre. This includes the retail and leisure offer, other things to do/places of interest and how to get there (not forgetting where to park…). The coastline in Northumberland is stunning, but how many tourists actually consider visiting Berwick upon Tweed Town Centre, or even know where it is? Not many, apparently – but surely, this is a missed opportunity? 2. Broadening the offer Of all the attention paid to town centres over the last year or so, probably the biggest theme has been the shift away from retail. This is not as easy to solve as it sounds, given that the food and drink sector has shown signs of saturation in some locations. That said, smaller centres still have some catching-up to do, particularly those with an evening economy focused towards alcohol – and ‘family friendly’ is the watchword here. To its credit, the Government is alive to the need for more flexibility, as shown by a succession of amendments to the permitted development rights (PDRs) regime, and further PDRs proposals included in a consultation currently underway. But local authorities must also think about what new (non-retail) ‘anchors’ they can attract, in order to keep people coming in. 3. Taking a pro-active and holistic approach Environmental improvements alone won’t solve all town centres’ problems but they do help. Getting the basics right means keeping the centre clean and tidy, safe, attractive and easy to navigate. To see these improvements, though, people need to be drawn in on a regular basis, and a well-curated programme of events can play a part, reinforcing the centre’s role as a civic heart. New residential development and student accommodation (in the right locations) also help to generate additional footfall and spending in existing facilities. They are not Main Town Centre Uses in planning speak but bring a range of benefits. 4. Business leading the way They might not want to hear this, but retailers could do more to secure their future – by reinvigorating their offer and the customer experience, for example. Independents, however, also need better support from local authorities in order to thrive. Perhaps more than national multiples, the more tailored-service independent traders typically offer gives them a decent chance of bucking recent trends towards use of the internet and out-of-centre retail parks, but to do this they need help and advice (the ones we met in Stanley, County Durham, certainly felt so). As I suggested in my previous blog, they need to embrace the internet, develop and promote their online offer, and promote delivery and click-and-collect services where they can. Final thoughts We cannot look at these issues through rose-tinted glasses. The economic circumstances of individual areas, particularly in the North-East, mean that some centres will inevitably contract and their importance diminish. But is it worth investing in our town centres? Certainly it is. Although their social role is perhaps even more important, the economic benefits of a thriving town centre far outweigh the short-term costs in, for example, creating an effective centre management function or creating a prospectus for investment (as Middlesbrough Council has done). What is the right approach for one centre may be wrong for another. Our recommendations could be seen as a shopping list (excuse the pun) for town centre stakeholders to pick from. Neglecting one area at the expense of others, however, is unlikely to reap the same rewards. In an age when social media and instant information rule, it is not enough having the right offer if no-one knows about it. Having met people from all parts of the North-East, I’m confident we can re-establish our centres at the heart of the community. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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