Estate Renewal

Estate renewal provide housing and amenity benefits. However, their economic impacts are limited.

Why estate renewal?

We take 'estate renewal' to be area-based programmes that physically renew housing stock through demolition, refurbishment or other change. These projects are often undertaken as part of a series of upgrades. As such, the rationale for such projects can be that the existing estate has reached the end of its life span and is next on the list for redevelopment.

Estate renewal also fits into the broader policy mix known as ‘regeneration’, and in the UK is particularly associated with the neighbourhood renewal agenda under the 1997-2010 Labour Government. Regeneration programmes seek to improve social, economic or physical conditions – sometimes all three – for a given location, and by extension (it is hoped) for the area’s residents.

The regeneration policy toolkit is large, encompassing land remediation, remodelling physical property, investment in transport or other infrastructure, skills training and active labour market initiatives, business advice, tax breaks and other fiscal measures, policing, neighbourhood management and a range of community development activities. As a result, the diversity of regeneration interventions is large and policymakers have a wide range of objectives in mind when designing and delivering programmes. Due to its reach, regeneration policy often sits across a range of central and local government departments.

Regeneration in the UK has evolved from anti-poverty initiatives in the 1960s, to physically-orientated business-led programmes such as the Urban Development Corporations in the 1980s, towards a joined-up approach in the 1990s, beginning with City Challenge and the SRB programme before shifting into multiple area-based initiatives under New Labour.

From 1997, estate renewal programmes were seen as part of a wider regeneration agenda, which aimed to ensure that ‘no-one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live’. From the mid-2000s, however, Government became increasingly focused on economic regeneration, particularly the need to enhance regional and city-regional economic performance.

For the purpose of this review we define estate renewal programmes as those involving demolition, refurbishment or some combination of the two, on a local scale including but not limited to public housing estates. We also include more holistic programmes such as New Deal for Communities (NDC) which involved a physical regeneration element alongside other ‘people focused’ measures.

This focus was informed partly by a desire to consider a set of reasonably comparable programmes, but also by our initial scoping study which suggested that there was sufficient economic impact evaluation evidence available for such programmes to make a review feasible. Other types of area-based intervention will form the basis for a subsequent review.

Given the policy shifts above, it is important to note that many of the programmes discussed here have multiple objectives, and that recent UK estate renewal programmes were not conceived as economic growth interventions. Even relatively straightforward physically-led interventions may be expected to contribute to a range of outcomes for residents.

With those caveats in mind, what might we expect such interventions to achieve? First, such programmes have direct effects on the quality of the local housing stock. But interventions may also have wider impacts. Estate renewal programmes often directly improve the physical environment and provide amenities – such as new or better quality housing, improved streetscape or public / green spaces. Such improvements to the physical environment should indirectly raise property values, and thus house prices and rents. We can see this as a measure of the value of these improvements; but there may be winners and losers from this process. In particular, if physical renewal leads to some existing residents being temporarily or permanently displaced, the net welfare effects of the programme may be reduced. Such changes could also, in theory, boost residents’ quality of life across a range of outcomes – for example, access to green space could have health benefits, and redesigned estates might have fewer opportunities for crime.

Finally, by changing an area’s residential mix estate renewal policies may have an indirect impact on area-level measures of economic ‘performance’. For example, if higher-income groups move in, then area level income is likely to rise. Disentangling these effects on area averages from impacts on particular individuals or groups in an area is a major challenge for evaluation of these projects. This is made especially difficult if individuals directly affected move to other areas as evaluations then need to be able to follow individuals through time and across locations. In practice, none of the reviews we look at are able to do this and most focus on area level outcomes which combine both individual effects and changes in area composition.

In addition to these composition effects, the long time frame for completion of projects and thus for any possible effects to emerge creates further evaluation difficulties. These are arguably more extreme for estate renewal than for some of the other policy areas we have considered so far. Given these long time frames, it is common for local Government leadership, prioritisation and spending plans to have changed before the full effects emerge. All of these changes reduce incentives to robustly assess outcomes.

Definition of Estate Renewal

We included in our definition of estate renewal programmes which:

  • Refurbished, demolished, demolished-and-rebuilt or built properties, including but not limited to public housing estates;
  • Were area-based interventions that included an element of physical regeneration (although some, such as the New Deal for Communities, included other non-physical objectives).

We excluded from our definition of estate renewal programmes which:

  • Remediated contaminated land rather than buildings;
  • Were area-based interventions which did not include any element of physical regeneration;
  • Relocated residents from deprived to less deprived areas, without any element of physical regeneration

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