When I think about regeneration, I think about the sort of place where people want to live. The environment is attractive with high quality homes in well maintained, safe public spaces. There are places to go and things to do. Schools get good results, and children of all abilities and interests can develop their potential. Jobs and training opportunities are either local, or there are good transport links to them. There is a feeling that the place works, and confidence that this will continue.
I wish every community in Wales was like this, but it isn’t, and that’s where regeneration comes in.
Right across Wales, whether urban or rural, there are communities that were based upon strong local economies, but needs have changed or market forces shifted, leaving whole communities looking for a new purpose. Jobs and the self-esteem they bring have been lost and many younger people have left to find work. Investment in local business has declined and problems with health, economic inactivity and lack of opportunity prevail.
We want to help these communities back to their feet. For me, regeneration is about ensuring communities are not left behind. It’s about understanding where this is happening, and stepping in to help these communities prosper. The benefits are experienced by the area’s residents, and it also boosts prosperity for the region and Wales.
Our budget is not unlimited, particularly in the current climate, so we need to concentrate our investment to make the most difference with the resources we have. During this government term, we are concentrating on seven Regeneration Areas. Each area has different needs and opportunities so it’s important that all the players in each area, whether business, local government or civil society are involved so they can take opportunities to regenerate the community in ways that work for them.
Of course, these areas will change over time. Other communities will need support and we will need to redirect resources. I want to ensure we are directing resources to help communities in greatest need to prosper, and to take opportunities to make the most impact. It’s important that the process for deciding where we invest our resources is open and transparent. This is why I am committed to setting out clear criteria for identifying Regeneration Areas.
If areas are to succeed, investment is needed not just in the physical environment but also to support long term economic and social change. This is not to say that improving the physical environment – particularly town centres – is not important, but we also want to ensure that local people are equipped to access the opportunities that investment brings. The Jobmatch programme that offers support to people in the Heads of the Valleys Regeneration Area to overcome barriers to employment, which has seen 5000 people find work or training since 2003 demonstrates the value of this approach.
It’s also important that regeneration programmes don’t operate in isolation from other government programmes. Regeneration is a catalyst for additional activity that will raise prosperity and well-being over the long term. This means that these initiatives must mesh closely with ongoing government programmes in fields such as health, education, housing, transport, community development and the environment.
An excellent example of this is Arbed, the Welsh Assembly Government’s groundbreaking energy efficiency scheme for Regeneration Areas. The scheme will upgrade the energy efficiency of housing stock in some of Wales’ most deprived areas, reducing carbon emissions and fuel costs for residents at the same time as providing jobs and training. Whole streets will benefit, rather than individual houses, contributing to the physical regeneration of these areas.
Regeneration programmes cannot be short term sticking plasters. These investments must make long term changes. With tightening budgets ahead, we cannot depend on more funding. I want to be confident that every penny will make a real difference.
I am also Deputy Minister for Housing and one of the things that I am looking at now is how we join housing and regeneration opportunities, and get more benefit as a result. Housing and its ongoing maintenance brings considerable investment into communities.
We are already delivering local benefits from public sector spending, for example, the I2i Can-Do Toolkit, a joint housing and regeneration project, which provides guidance on making targeted recruitment and training a requirement of contracts. The guide has been used by Registered Social Landlords working towards the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and has helped to create 487 job and training opportunities in one year, despite the recession. I want to see more work along these lines to ensure we’re maximising the benefits of this investment.
The purpose of regeneration is to work with communities to help them identify their needs and opportunities, to improve the quality of their own lives and the communities in which they live. Our role as those responsible for delivering change is supporting communities to take these steps. We need to deliver creative solutions to problems in communities all over Wales in partnership with national and local government, other public sector organisations, the third sector and with communities. This is the best way to achieve successful regeneration as nobody can understand the needs of a community better than the community itself.