How Estate Regeneration can help resolve the housing crisis – and some practical steps to make ensure it is delivered effectively



Wednesday, 17 May

By Colin Boxall, Managing Consultant


The housing crisis in the UK takes many forms. Principally, we do not have enough homes, and the homes we do have are in poor condition and not environmentally sustainable.


Estate regeneration – the redevelopment of public estates to provide more housing, improve the environment and broaden opportunities for communities – has historically been a ‘go to’ option. But lately it has become less popular, poorly funded and controversial, even as the pressures of the housing crisis remain.


With land difficult to come by and council finances under pressure, retrofit programmes are increasingly presented as a better answer for estates that need significant investment to make them more liveable. With 80 percent of the homes that will exist in 2050 having already been built, retrofit and refurbishment simply must be part of the solution. Significant focus and funding from government and landlords is starting to be committed and plans are progressing. ICC is supporting many landlords to deliver them. But sometimes these schemes can be more expensive, often require residents to move out during building works, and have been complicated by emerging fire regulations. They also deliver lower carbon savings than new build developments.


However, for many estates there is no single right answer and finding that answer will depend on the needs and aspirations for residents and local demand for more social and affordable housing. This means that part of the solution is not to dismiss estate regeneration, but to consider it as part of an options appraisal process and to work through the issues that have made it a contentious subject – from the perception that such work is gentrification by subterfuge, to worries about displacing families, detrimental environmental impact, the ongoing struggle to access grant funding and the wavering of central government support for the model.


We believe at ICC that estate regeneration needs to be part of the housing crisis solution and can deliver significant benefits provided it is taken forward on the right estates and delivered in the right way. Running through all potential options in an objective and thorough way takes time and capacity.


Here are some key thoughts from our experience to ensure that any estate regeneration project is a success, progresses at pace and delivers positive transformation.


  • Prioritise: Avoid expenditure on plans that stall by focussing on estates where there is a good chance of progress and success. Prioritise those where residents want change to happen and can work with stakeholders. At ICC we have supported landlords to identify those estates that are most likely to have the strategic, economic and financial conditions and resident support for transformation. You can read more about this work here:


  • Be realistic: Estate regeneration takes a long time. Resist pressure to propose a ‘best case’ delivery timetable to make schemes more palatable from a political or funding perspective. This short-term approach often leads to loss of support and trust further down the line timings inevitably change. It also has substantial financial implications given the cost of borrowing. A high-level programme developed early on, that looks at realistic build and sales rates, the number of residents that may need to be moved, and legal timelines – and has been tested for ‘optimism bias’ – will manage expectations.


  • Understand what residents need: Dive into the estate’s housing need, understand issues and challenges and scope out potential additional future needs. Use this information to shape the strategic brief for the estate and develop a comprehensive resident offer that is fair, attractive, can rehouse at pace and tackle the needs of multiple generations across an estate.


  • Fix your parameters: Set the strategic brief early, based on a full testing of the level and type of development needed to deliver a viable scheme to avoid abortive work or wasted design fees. There is nothing more disruptive than developing a design that is widely supported but is undeliverable and needs to be changed later down the road.


  • Write a clear engagement plan and stick to it: Engage with the local community and stakeholders and involve them in the regeneration process from the outset. Setting a clear stakeholder mapping and engagement framework at the start will clarify how you will gather feedback at all stages and be clear on how and when residents will be involved in decision-making. Co-design and constituted groups can be useful tools, but you must ensure engagement with residents of all tenures and from diverse backgrounds to ensure all voices are heard – not just those that shout loudest.


  • Show exactly the value that you’re going to deliver – and how you will deliver it: Set out clearly the full benefits of the scheme to local community and decision makers – not just the new housing and other buildings or the financial bottom line, but all the social, economic and environmental impact that estate regeneration can provide. Showing the hard data of future benefits helps build support and quicker decisions. This needs to be supported by a clear plan and timetable for delivering social value objectives to meet local need.


  • Write a clear rehousing plan: Resist rehousing before there is a viable regeneration plan, regardless of a desire to press ahead or immediate issues with the existing homes. This risks a skewed strategy that doesn’t work for development and can leave homes empty for a long period, incurring holding costs for the landlord. A bespoke rehousing and phasing plan should be worked through before any action, and the costs of any temporary works carefully weighed against the often-significant cost of maintaining and keeping safe part-occupied buildings.


  • Manage disruption with effective stewardship: Once underway, estate regeneration is by its nature disruptive and liveability issues can feed understandable resentment. Some of this can be mitigated through the delivery of a quick-wins programme but you also need to ensure that you closely manage the disruptive aspects of the work. You must ensure basics like security plans and construction mitigation. It is also critical to ensure ongoing investment in the maintenance and upkeep of the estate. Future demolition is not an excuse to avoid spending money on this now. It is also key to ensure that works management moves seamlessly into long-term stewardship to ensure a smooth transition for the estate’s future.


  • Commit for the long run: Estate regeneration is not an easy or quick process and will need to ride out several economic and political cycles. However, ensuring that you have a strong vision, a solid business plan, a flexible planning framework and a learning process as you go through the phases of the work can help smooth out the ups and downs, and maintain support for the long term.