Interviews

01.06.12

A lasting legacy

Source: Public Sector Executive May/June 12

Roger Taylor, director of the Host Boroughs Unit, talks to PSE about Olympic legacy.

Life chances for people living within the Olympic host boroughs are significantly lower than those for people living in the rest of London, and the area represents the largest concentration of extreme deprivation in the UK.

To repair this damage and realign east London with the average standards for the capital, the Host Boroughs Unit works to deliver convergence, and promote the areas as key opportunities for growth.

Director of the unit, Roger Taylor, who has decades of experience in local government and regeneration, including as a former chief executive of Birmingham and Manchester city councils, discussed these issues with PSE and stressed the importance of taking the time to provide lasting improvements, well beyond the Olympics.

Support, strategy and socioeconomics

The Host Boroughs Unit was formed in 2007 to support the host boroughs – Waltham Forest, Barking & Dagenham, Hackney, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham – in their planning for the 2012 Olympic Games. However it soon became clear that the unit was well placed to provide a “strategic nesting place” for joint work concerning building control for the Olympic Park and the original DWP Pathfinder initiative.

Taylor told PSE: “In the early part of 2008 we all – the GLA, the Government – started to ask questions about legacy. Up until that point nobody had really discussed it that much. Although there is a very clear statement in the Olympic bid that the most enduring legacy of the Games will be the regeneration for the east areas of London, everyone was rushing about thinking about how to build the park.”

The London Development Agency began to think about the potential legacy use for the Olympic Park and the boroughs started to consider their own roles and the best way to ensure the commitment in the UK bid for the Games was properly honoured.

“We knew we wanted to make things better but we weren’t quite sure what that meant,” Taylor said. “So we went back to the hard data on deprivation and were shocked to discover that despite all the efforts of everybody over the last 100 years, things were just about as bad as they always had been.”

Convergence

The unit’s mission, to pull up the life chances of people in east London to match the rest of the capital, is known as convergence. The socio-economic data gave the unit an idea of the “scale of mountain we had to climb”, Taylor said.

Indicators identified included educational attainment, in terms of GCSE and NVQ level 3, economic activity, and mortality rates. Other key supporting factors are housing, overcrowding and violent crime, as well as increasing access and participation to sport and culture.

Taylor said: “That gave us a very clear, very simple, evidential framework in which to say all of our efforts are focused. The most important are around skills and work, because the most significant driver for getting people out of poverty is better work and increased income.”

Economic prospects

Because the unit was conducting a long-term strategy, they needed assurance that this development would continue to be relevant, irrespective of party focus or changes in government.

The unit commissioned Oxford Economics to build a model of the likely state of the economy through to 2030. Assuming a steady state of social demography, this provided a model of where the unit would be if they were successful in achieving their convergence objectives. Only known investments were put into the model to ensure there was a strong guarantee that they would take place. This actually understated the likely level of growth in east London over that period, Taylor said.

Oxford Economics’ report concluded that convergence – primarily through cutting worklessness, and its knock-on effects – could offer a net impact of around £7.5bn per year uplift in GDP for the UK as well as around £4bn a year turnaround from benefit dependency to tax income.

The research corroborated the value of the unit’s work as “completely sensible in terms of overall economic growth at a time when decent economic growth is a major challenge for the UK altogether”, Taylor added.

The work agreed involved reviewing infrastructure investment in the boroughs and considering ways to speed it up. The unit began implementing an action plan on employment and skills with the GLA, the NHS and other public sector organisations. It also has the “active support” of the private sector.

Taylor said: “We shall improve the efficiency of the London economy if we ensure that as large a proportion [of jobs] as possible go to people who are currently economically inactive within the host boroughs.”

Focused collaboration

The boroughs involved have already agreed to return to this work following the Olympic Games this summer. Taylor explained: “The host boroughs have been through a lot of challenges which come from the subtly different shades of political philosophy within six Labour boroughs: differences in priority and being able to reconcile them.

“But after so long I would say there is a very clear understanding about what they want to do and unite around. Two years ago they set up a formal joint committee, taking decisions to bind all of them, and that works pretty well. It’s a unanimous decision of the six to continue and see things develop.

“Yes we’ve had difficulties, who wouldn’t? This is a bit like a marriage, but like any other partnership we’ve worked our way through them and solved the problems and are getting on with it. In a nutshell, we’ve understood the things we need to collaborate about and the things we can leave each borough to get on with on its own so we can work in a very focused and dedicated way on the things that unite us and not worry about the other things too much.”

Taking it slowly

Taylor insisted that change takes time, saying: “We’re not particularly enamoured with rushjob regeneration. We hold out no urgent promises.”

He labelled the short timescales, so favoured by politicians, as the “death of regeneration” and explained: “It takes a long time to make a remarkable shift.”

However, the work is still resulting in tangible impacts. Improvements in GCSE results are more rapid in the host boroughs than anywhere else in London, Taylor said, and a convergence point will be reached in 2017.

Rapid physical development is also taking part throughout the Olympic Park, Lower Lea Valley and Canary Wharf. This provides residents with confirmation that change is already happening. In 2014, the first phase of the legacy of the Olympic park will be completed and the next phase of Stratford City will get underway.

Taylor noted: “It’s not just dribs and drabs. There are some absolutely massive physical developments which will have an enormous impact on people’s awareness of how rapidly the area is changing. You have a steady unobtrusive change in some aspects of the social demography but some very significant physical change happening.”

Securing local legacy

Geoff Pearce, executive director of Triathlon Homes, says that when the celebrations around the London 2012 Olympics have finished, the real driver for hosting the Games, legacy, will take on a life of its own.

East Village – the post-Games identity of the Olympic Village – will lead the way for housing legacy. Along with private property company Qatari Diar Delancey (QDD), the Triathlon Homes consortium will take ownership of the Village’s 2,818 homes. While QDD will manage the 1,439 homes available for private sale and rent, Triathlon Homes will own the remaining 1,379 to provide affordable homes for local people, including 675 which have been committed for social rent.

The significant volume of homes available for social rent – nearly a quarter of the scheme, many of which are family-sized, is indicative of Triathlon Homes’ commitment to ensure its homes meet London’s housing need, and provide options for local people. The host borough of Newham will receive nearly 350 social rented homes, its largest ever contribution from one development. Similarly, the Greater London Authority will be endowed with over 100 social rented homes, enabling people from across the capital to benefit from London’s landmark scheme.

With homes ranging in size from one-bedroom flats to four-bedroom houses, the Village has been designed to benefit as wide a range of Londoners as possible. This idea has also been crucial to our Lettings Strategy, which was announced by Mayor of London Boris Johnson in January 2012 – unusually – well over a year before anyone will be moving into the Village.

Through early engagement, we can work with potential tenants to ensure that the Village and related facilities will cater for their needs – for example, by implementing skills training for potential tenants who are currently looking for work.

Indeed, all the Village’s facilities – from the (unsurprisingly) world-class sporting amenities to the state-of-the-art school, Chobham Academy – have been designed to benefit not just individual residents, but the Village community as a whole, as well as the wider Stratford area.

To ensure that East Village’s facilities continue to benefit residents for years to come, a Community Development Trust is being established, and will receive a substantial endowment to own and develop the community facilities.

Creating a sustainable, long-term community from scratch is a unique modern challenge, and one which will require a robust long-term joint management strategy from Triathlon Homes and QDD. By working together on everything from concierges to maintaining common areas, to gardening clubs, we aim to ensure that the Village develops into a sustainable, friendly place where contributions to Village life are valued and people are able to put down roots and take pride in their neighbourhood and community.

At Triathlon Homes, we are certainly aware that creating a sustainable community from scratch is a huge challenge. However, the opportunity to transform the lives of 1,379 families from Newham, other host boroughs, and further afield in London, is truly Olympian.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

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