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The Future is Local

6 July 2010

Managing upgrade works on a neighbourhood basis can encourage greater participation and cut costs by 20-30%

Enabling communities to lead local renewal projects with a neighbourhood-wide approach is the most cost-effective way to ensure our villages, towns and cities are fit for the future and create the conditions for people to thrive, a new report from the Sustainable Development Commission finds.

The Future is Local: Empowering communities to improve their neighbourhoods finds that failing to upgrade our local infrastructure will have a negative effect on all areas of life in the UK, hampering our ability to deal with climate change, future housing and transport needs, ill health and unemployment. The report argues that we need to focus on more than energy efficiency if we are to gain the full economic, environmental and social benefits of efforts to improve neighbourhoods.

The UK’s 21 million homes produce over a quarter of our carbon emissions. The cost of retrofitting them to meet the 80 per cent carbon reductions required by law by 2050 is estimated at a minimum of £210 billion. Substandard housing is already estimated to cost the NHS £2.5 billion a year. Evidence shows that lack of access to green spaces and safe walking and cycling routes contribute to high levels of obesity and mental ill health, which, combined, currently cost the NHS £13 billion a year. Congestion in England, if left unchecked, is likely to cost £22 billion by 2025.

The report concludes that empowering communities to prioritise, finance and deliver necessary local works in an integrated way – from improving home energy efficiency to upgrading green spaces and installing flood defences and renewable energy sources – will:

  • Save money by taking advantage of economies of scale
  • Attract higher levels of participation compared with programmes to tackle individual issues
  • Help communities access better finance solutions and generate income to be re-invested into other community projects
  • Reduce disruption by tackling works together
  • Strengthen communities by involving them in decisions about their area.

Stewart Davies, Business Commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission, said:

“People want to live in places that feel safe, homes that are affordable to heat and neighbourhoods that are resilient to extreme weather. And we know that access to green space, good transport links and safe pedestrian and cycle routes can improve our health and well-being and even our employment prospects.

“An integrated, neighbourhood-wide approach to upgrading our towns and cities allows communities to work together to agree local priorities, helping them save money, access smarter finance and even reap profits from community-owned infrastructure which can be ploughed back into the neighbourhood for everyone’s benefit.

“Communities all over the UK are already finding out that working together is the best way to make things happen, and enjoying the social, financial and practical benefits along the way. In our current economic climate, supporting a neighbourhood partnership approach is the best way for Government to ensure that our villages, towns and cities are in good shape to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Examples of successful neighbourhood partnerships already improving their communities cited in the report include:

  • The village of Lyddington in Leicestershire, where residents grouped together and partnered with a local telecoms company to have high-speed broadband installed at a cost well below market rates
  • The Sanford Housing Cooperative in South East London, where residents took advantage of a planned refurbishment to introduce food growing and improve sustainable transport as well as cutting the estate’s carbon emissions by 60%
  • Blacon in Cheshire, where an integrated programme focusing on the area’s energy, green space, transport and social enterprise is expected to deliver carbon reductions as well as bringing new life and investment into an area of significant deprivation – led by a community trust
  • The Heads of the Valleys Low Carbon Programme in South Wales, a regeneration strategy now being replicated across Wales which creates jobs and cuts carbon emissions through upgrading existing housing
  • Bristol’s 14 Neighbourhood Partnerships, which bring together local residents and voluntary and community groups with councillors and statutory bodies to develop long-term solutions to local problems and improving local services.

In order to empower communities to take the task of upgrading their neighbourhoods forward, the SDC is calling for Government support for multi-disciplinary neighbourhood partnerships to bring together communities, local authorities, infrastructure owners and financial and technical partners.

The report’s recommendations to Government include:

  • Putting policies in place to make it possible for local communities to derive long term benefits from low carbon energy infrastructure, such as new housing or wind turbines in their area
  • Supporting neighbourhood partnerships with financial and legal advice and technical support co-ordinated through CLG
  • Unlocking access to funding for neighbourhood-scale projects – including energy efficiency – through its proposed Green Investment Bank
  • Devolving decisions on local spending to neighbourhood partnerships
  • Enabling local authorities to borrow against Feed-in-Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive income streams.

» Read more

» Download the Executive Summary of The Future is Local

» Download the full report

» Read SDC Chair Will Day's thoughts on how the concept of the Big Society can help communities improve their neighbourhoods

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