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Does estate renewal improve local growth?

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We think estate renewal is a waste of money. No, not really, but that was the impression we initially gave some participants on Tuesday, when the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth held our latest roundtable to discuss our upcoming Evidence Review on Estate Renewal.

These sessions are a valuable opportunity for us to talk to experts in the field about our emerging findings, and to feed their views back into our work before final publication. In light of this discussion, we’ll be stating more clearly in our final paper that estate renewal may be the right policy to turn damp, cold, unsafe and substandard dwellings into dry, warm and safe homes for their residents. We don’t want anyone to read our paper and think that estate renewal is a waste of money. It can be of critical importance to the quality of life for people in low-quality accommodation.

The argument we do make, however, based on all of the high-quality evaluations which we reviewed, is that the wider economic benefits often claimed for estate renewal – more local jobs and increased income – are not supported by the evidence. The evidence – an alarmingly small amount, given the sums of money spent on estate renewal – suggests that the economic impacts on local economies are not large and are often zero. We also considered non-economic outcomes – crime, health, well-being, and education – and even in these areas the positive impact of estate renewal appears to be minimal.

Getting the message right with our reviews is important, and we need to be careful that our findings are not taken as a wholesale condemnation of estate renewal. But they do suggest that decisions to proceed should be made on the basis of improving substandard living conditions. The evidence says that economic problems should be tackled directly, and not be expected to improve as a by-product of improved housing conditions.

Time and money could be saved in the appraisal if economic impact assessments and wider goals were removed from the equation when deciding on whether or not to renew an estate.

The audience at our roundtable last week was a large, expert group with a great breadth of experience in estates renewal and regeneration. We are very grateful to them for engaging with our work. Their feedback is key to helping us distil our findings in a way which is clear and helpful to practitioners at every level across the country.

The full review into estate renewal will be out soon. To make sure you receive it, sign up to our updates below.