Political Leadership and City Regeneration Part 2

In the previous post we examined Mike Tappin’s critique of Stoke-on-Trent’s political leadership and looked at some of his recommendations. Continuing this theme, albeit on a broader canvas, on 14th December I was invited to the Centre for Cities-organised Rebuilding Britain’s Cities: Lessons from the UK and US event at Portcullis House in London to launch their latest report, Grand Designs? A new approach to the built environment in England’s cities. By addressing the thorny issue of regeneration strategy it immediately brought to the fore the problems Mike tackled – of direction, vision, and, most importantly, where the impulse for regeneration would
come from. It was in this vein the discussion’s chair, Stoke Central MP Tristram Hunt, opened with, noting that the government’s spending cuts means there is little or no role the public sector can play in regenerating cities.

The morning’s first speaker was Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities. Grand Designs? set out to assess existing regeneration strategies and asked if they achieved the best possible outcomes for the people and built environment of declining cities. It was also interested in how cities adapted to changing population trends, whether strategies were often political exercises in official optimism, and what lessons can medium-sized cities take on board from elsewhere.

Alexandra observed that populations tend to migrate to clusters of economic activity, which helps explains current population decline in the north of England. But the developmental model this implies, i.e. industrial growth followed by postindustrial depopulation, is not an iron law of economics or anything else. Large cities of the Midlands and the North have bucked this trend to an extent because they have adapted to the new climate.

Why have they been successful while others haven’t? Alexandra suggested that much of the built environment of northern cities is not appropriate to the demands of the postindustrial economy, and neither were some of the regeneration programmes. Centre for Cities found that on the indicators used to measure the predicted positive impacts, nearly half (48%) of physical regeneration projects underperformed. Similarly of economic strategies aimed at revitalising particular areas, 40% failed to meet job creation targets. As a way of illustrating the disconnect between strategy and economic/demographic reality, one such scheme saw the building of 12,000 new properties in Liverpool … while over the same period 5,000 people left the city.

One possible way of coping with city decline is to swim with the tide rather than stubbornly setting one’s face against it. Instead of a ‘build it and they will come’ approach, Alexandra pointed to a number of examples from overseas. Youngstown, Ohio has received attention for its adoption of ‘smart decline’. Rather than planning for growth (in 1950 there were 172,000 inhabitants, by 2000 only 82,000) it has allowed nature to reclaim run down neighbourhoods and is concentrating resources on core infrastructures (see here). Variations on this theme have been tried elsewhere. Flint, Michigan has aggressively moved to demolish vacant properties so public services don’t have to stretch so far. Philadelphia has transformed its vacant lots into green spaces, which in turn has increased land values and seen people beginning to return to what has become a more desirable

Off the back of these exampled and the lessons learned from UK regeneration, Alexandra suggested five guiding principles for regeneration strategies:

a) The built environment must adapt to economic and population change.
b) Strategies must be focused on the best outcomes for people: mega projects are of limited utility.
c) Regeneration needs to be sensitive to and tailored toward the needs of different neighbourhoods within cities.
d) Community engagement is essential and not an optional extra.
e) Circumstances should be kept under constant review: a regeneration process has to have some flexibility built in.

The next speaker was Bruce Katz from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, a Washington DC-based think tank. His talk focused on the experience of South East Michigan and how it is meeting the ‘new economy’. Here there are a number of things going on that lend themselves to regenerating UK cities. The first is the role of philanthropy. In the US there is almost a cultural expectation that business elites “give something back”. In SE Michigan’s case this has assumed the form of a $100m fund raised from the largesse of wealthy philanthropy. This fund is too small to address all the problems of such a vast territory, but what it has been doing is providing grants to new start ups as a means of kick starting the internal economy, of strengthening organic processes of recovery and, hopefully, producing a raft of new businesses with commitments to the region.

Secondly, in the wake of the recession local businesses have been forced to think strategically about the future. Before the 2008 crash, under the conditions of the housing-led consumption bubble the SE Michigan economy could not compete. Now that has collapsed there are a number of advantages it has over places like, say, Las Vegas, who did extremely well under the old model. Key to prospering in the global economy now are design and innovation, advanced manufactories, low carbon and green technologies. If recovery is to be export-led then Detroit, which didn’t look healthy under the previous regime of accumulation, is now very well-placed: it is the 12th largest exporting economy in the United States. Hence regeneration policy now is about repositioning and retooling old industrial cities and making the most of what they’ve got.

Therefore Bruce’s lessons were, firstly, the emphasis on economy. Land interventions – whether demolition, refurbishing housing stock, or building a mega project – must be tied into the economic context. If there is a disconnect then chances are they won’t succeed. Secondly local government and regeneration planners have to think about different economic models. The assumptions underpinning renewal strategies of the boom years are outdated. If export growth is the way out of economic stagnation then appropriate policy responses at the local and regional level have to be developed and implemented.

The morning’s final speaker was Newsnight economics editor (and occasional leftist) Paul Mason. He played a short piece taken from his film on Gary, Indiana. This once-booming industrial city has seen its population fall by half from its 1950s peak to just 100,000 today. On his blog Paul describes Gary as a city “suffering from one of the most advanced cases of urban blight in the developed world. Its city centre is near-deserted by day. The texture of the urban landscape is cracked stone, grass, crumbled brick and buddleia.” Since its heyday deindustrialisation has literally pulled the guts out of the city, leaving it populated by hundreds of abandoned buildings, among which are colleges, schools, and other trappings essential to the infrastructure of any modern city.

For Paul, Gary is locked in a spiral of depopulation and decapitalisation. The collapse of industrial employment triggered the decline, but subsequent depopulation has meant the critical mass of organic social capital isn’t there to help the city help itself. But this is a question of distribution rather than total sum. In most former industrial cities social capital (the cultural ties that bind communities together, make them cohesive, and enable them to do things – see here) have high levels of social capital thanks to the social solidarities that grew up in the previous era. It does tend to be highly localised and often obstructed by the atomisation of populations and, in Gary’s case, high levels of crime and morbidity. Therefore recovery strategies have to think about mobilising and harnessing this capital.

Paul suggested the means of accumulating social capital lends itself to the new economy (at least the creative, innovation-driven side of it). He argued the semi-private spaces of coffee shops, shopping centres, library IT suites, cyber cafes accommodate the nomadic workspaces of those whose working life is, in large measure, portable and dependent on internet access. Whether at work or play these are becoming sites where new social relations are forged in conjunction with the new economy, from which all kinds of real world cultural and business spin offs can emerge. He suggested one way of fostering this sort of micro climate would be for local authorities to open up empty shop fronts for use as informal work spaces.

Tristram then opened the the discussion up to questions. One representative from a city that has been through a successful regeneration process asked how to make the connect between existing “low aspiration” residents and the new hi-tech, high-innovation economy his city has managed to grow? Where does the aspiration to be socially mobile come from? Rupa Huq raised the issue of the place suburbs occupy in regeneration strategies, and observed the official optimism that conditions all projects is an effect of politics, of the need to promise the electorate a pot of gold at the end of the regeneration rainbow. But often this flies in the face of realities local governments face. In my contribution, I picked up on Paul Mason’s argument and said his concern with social capital is focused on the working and middles classes (from which his new intellectual workers are overwhelmingly drawn), but what
about the level of elites? They network among themselves but how to get their accumulation of social capital to trickle down to contribute to the cultural renewal of declining cities? Is it possible?

On suburbs Alexandra Jones replied that, generally speaking, big employers tend to locate in or very near a city centre because of its amenities. She cited one example where, during the construction boom, one company threw up grade A office space in a suburban location and has since remained empty. Therefore building projects have to be tailored to people and economics, otherwise it’s a waste of time. But she fully agreed with Rupa on optimism. There is a conflict between the realistic, pragmatic approach to regeneration and its politics. As difficult local authorities and politicians may find it, some honesty has to be injected into the expectations they project. On local elites, Bruce Katz recommended trying to pool what philanthropy exists and suggested universities play a good role in facilitating this. And on aspiration, Paul Mason reiterated his points on social capital, calling for more ‘local capital markets’ where this can grow.

There was an awful lot to digest from this session and a great many things that could inform regeneration policy in Stoke. Like other industrial cities its population has been in measured but long term decline. There have been clearances of old terraces but without the building of new commensurate homes. Instead there was, until recently, a move to provide the sorts of identikit urban flats as well as modern three and four bed room semis and detached housing. Before the housing pathfinder scheme was junked by government cuts there were more plans for more new builds of this type. Now this is not going to be built for the foreseeable future, the Stoke-on-Trent city scape is blighted with voids. Small wonder Matthew Rice, MD of local pottery firm Emma Bridgewater, recently compared the local built environment to Helmand province. And, at present, there
is nothing coming from the City Council on what should be done with these sites. That is apart from planting down clovers to keep the ground uneven so kids don’t play on them (for arcane legal reasons, of course).

There there are our own mega projects. A hypermodern campus for Stoke Sixth Form College has recently opened on Leek Road, and next door to it Staffs University are building a science and technology innovation centre. These do seem like the sort of things the city needs, especially as the latter will be part and parcel of the university’s continued commitment to providing ‘incubation units’ for graduate start ups. But the other mega project due to arrive – a new bus station in Hanley (current one pictured) – appears to suffer the hubris that comes with building-led regeneration. Its replacement, which looks swish and modern, apparently promises to bring more investment into the city. As welcome as a replacement for the awful and shabby bus station is, I am worried there is more than a soupçon of official optimism swirling
around. For starters which ever way you arrive at the bus station you have to first go through the aforementioned blighted lands and derelict properties. When your official gateway is prefaced by devastation will potential investors come away with a favourable impression? As for utility, it will certainly create the space to improve Stoke’s public mass transit and, who knows, perhaps it might win a major architectural prize, but does it meet the city’s current and likely future needs? I’m not entirely convinced.

This returns us to the question of political leadership. If Stoke (or any other city in a similar position) is to be renewed, questions have to be asked about what kind of regeneration it wants, what economic advantages it has that can be capitalised on in the new climate, what can be done to sponsor “homegrown” growth and, ultimately, what is the realistic assessment of its prospects. I think Stoke’s transport links, pottery industry, social solidarities, and growing educational capacity are grounds for optimism. Even the space left by clearances could be turned to its advantage. But unless the city intelligently, creatively, carefully, and pragmatically addresses the challenges facing it, there’s every danger the promise of a regenerated Stoke-on-Trent is one that goes unfulfilled.

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt On Regeneration & The Intangible Stuff

Newly-elected Stoke-on-Trent MP Tristram Hunt explains why continued government investment in education and skills is so vital for ‘cities in transition’

Struggling cities”Å¡ challenging cities”Å¡ cities in transition”Å¡ these are today’s buzz words for the public policy of managing change in industrial cities.

In America, the examples of Detroit, Gary and Buffalo have all been cited to support the idea of right-sizing cities and rolling back the urban footprint of declining manufacturing centres. In Britain, radical opinion-formers on the right have urged a mass transhumance from the post industrial north to the financial services south ““ or, at least, they did until the bubble burst.

But while these ideas might look good in a seminar room, they fail to take account either of the economic resilience of many manufacturing centres or the political requirement to support established communities. As the newly-elected MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, these are the issues I am beginning to grapple with.

As an historian, I am more than aware of the heroic past of the Potteries ““ how the soils of North Staffordshire gave birth to the Industrial Revolution; how its canals began the transport revolution; and how the kilns of Etruria pioneered modern factory production. But now, as a politician, I am also realising we need to be aggressive about exploiting that history in order to build a sustainable future.

For there is no doubt that while the likes of Sheffield and Derby ““ and, of course, Birmingham and Manchester ““have regenerated over the last 15 years, Stoke-on-Trent has not enjoyed the same success. Part of this is down to a different economic trajectory as North Staffordshire’s staple industries continued to suffer economic readjustment well into the 1990s. It was One Nation ““ and Michael Heseltine ““ that closed the last of the coalmines. The steel foundries followed soon after, and the past 20 years has seen the numbers employed in the pottery industry fall from around 50,000 to little more than 5,000.

But politics is also to blame. Weak councils ““ followed by long periods of introspection over the merits of elected mayors ““ combined with a proud if politically unstable culture of independent representatives, has put off investment. While the strong, concentrated leadership of Sir Howard Bernstein and Sir Richard Leese has reaped dividends in Manchester, the so-called “curse of the Potteries” (of relentless political change) has cost the city dear. Unfortunately, we still remain in a period of relative political uncertainty within the city but next year’s new governance system ““ of only 44 councillors with four-year terms of office ““ offers a longed-for chance of stable leadership. And Stoke-on-Trent’s three Labour MPs ““ myself together with Rob Flello and Joan Walley ““ are already working closely as a Potteries bloc.

Yet the real key to success lies in changing a culture of scepticism toward education and skills. As with many of Britain’s manufacturing or port cities, where young men and women could walk into jobs at 16 in mills, docks or factories with little need for formal education, Stoke-on- Trent has not had a history of valuing learning. Yet those jobs in the pot banks and the mines have gone, often to China or Indonesia, and the jobs of tomorrow are going to demand education, training and apprenticeships.

This is the rationale behind Labour’s phenomenal investment in the city ““ from SureStart centres to refitting primary schools, from a new 6th Form College to the University Quarter around Staffordshire University. The Labour Party was also committed to spending £250m on a Building Schools for the Future programme for all secondary schools, which could now be cut by the Tory/LibDem coalition.

For it is increasingly clear that sustainable urban regeneration is not about shimmering new piazzas and al-fresco dining opportunities; it is about investment in human capital. And far more effective than big public sector back-office job allocation is the slow revival of private sector enterprise.

Much of this is often down to the intangible stuff of regeneration. Yes, you need a professional council, competitive rates, decent housing and transport facilities, and a skilled workforce. But you also need a sense of “a city on the up” and today, Stoke-on-Trent has that.

As the financial services bubble finally bursts and Britain realises it still needs to make things, the Potteries is well-placed to prosper. Ceramics jobs are coming back to the area, thanks partly to the anti-competitive costs of currency swings and partly to the commercial advantage of a “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” brand. With it, we need to rebuild the engineering and manufacturing base which once underpinned the industry. The new £400m University Hospital of North Staffordshire is bringing skilled medical and scientific professionals to the area, while jobs in leisure, tourism, education and retail are also growing. But the intangibles are also there ““ Stoke City storming the Premier League; the return of the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard to its Mercian resting place; even the Hanley Regatta”Å¡ celebrating our canal heritage.

What Now For The BNP Nationally And In Stoke-on-Trent?

As the dust settles on both the General and Local Elections, the various parties will start analysing their performances and making the changes they need as a result.

Questions are being asked of the party leaders, particularly those who failed to deliver.

Gordon Brown is facing calls from a few of his MPs to step down and the same can be said of the British National Party Leader Nick Griffin.

There are many calls for Griffin to stand down and it is thought that Eddie Butler who is head of the Party’s Election Department could challenge him for the party leadership.

Contributors to a number of far right Internet forums are also questioning Griffin’s leadership. There have also being a number of high profile fall outs within the party in recent times.

First came the spat between Alby Walker and the BNP.

Walker accused Griffin of using the party to make himself rich and famous. He also claimed that there was a vein of holocaust deniers and members who display Nazi-esque sympathies within the party.

Then came the very public falling out between Griffin and Mark Collett, who at the time was the party’s publicity Director.

There was no shortage of publicity when it was revealed that Collett was plotting to overthrow Griffin as leader.

The result was that Collett allegedly threatened to kill Nick Griffin. The Police were called in to investigate the matter.

Finally, just two days before the election, another fall out rocked the BNP.

As a result of a dispute between Nick Griffin and former BNP webmaster Simon Bennett, the latter shut down the Party’s Website, Facebook and Twitter pages. The result was that the party was left with just a single temporary holding page on their home page on Election Day May 6th.

At the BNP’s recent election manifest launch, Nick Griffin was at pains to point out that his party no longer needed the mainstream media as their website had more hits than that of the Labour Party’s, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems put together. Those words must be coming home to roost right now.

Griffin failed to make any impression what so ever through the ballot box in Barking. He finished a distant 3rd behind Labour’s Margaret Hodge, who doubled her vote and Conservative Simon Marcus.

The BNP did increase it’s share of the national vote by 1.83% but failed to deliver the Member of Parliament it claimed was within their grasp.

In Stoke-on-Trent, BNP Deputy Chairman Simon Darby staged a massive campaign. He worked the constituency tirelessly. But his work failed to materialise into votes and he crashed to a humiliating defeat in Stoke Central.

Darby finished 4th behind Tristram Hunt [Labour], John Redfern [Lib Dem] and Conservative Norsheen Bhatti who is of Asian heritage.

The electorate often described as the BNP ‘jewel in the crown’ chose an ‘Asian belly dancer’ as the BNP often refer to her, over the Deputy Chairman of a nationalist party. Surely there can be no greater insult to their policies?

Mike Coleman failed to oust Rob Flello in Stoke South whilst Melanie Baddeley failed to make any impact in Stoke North and managed to go through the entire campaign without giving a media interview on her chances and her party’s core aims and values.

The only time she did engage with the media was in reaction to the news that her husband had been arrested and subsequently charged with possessing cannabis. He is currently on Police bail.

Mike Coleman is keen to get the message out that his party is not defeated and will pick themselves up and work towards the all out elections for Stoke-on-Trent City Council in 2011.

But, the BNP will have their work cut out if they are to halt and reverse their apparent decline.

At the local elections they lost 26 councillors across the country including all 12 from Barking and Dagenham.

They now have just 19 councillors in total across the country and are 15 behind the Green Party who have 34.

To put their task of challenging the 3 main parties into context you need to realise that the Conservatives have 3369 councillors, Labour have 2865 and the Lib Dems have 1665 across the country.

We managed to catch up with Stoke BNP Group Leader Mike Coleman earlier today who remains upbeat about his party’s performance and future prospects.

Listen to the Audio Interview below:

Stoke-on-Trent General Election Live Feed

The Archive for our live feeds from the General Election count

Stoke on Trent – Parliamentary Election results – VIDEOS & POST RESULT INTERVIEWS

UPDATED – Interviews Now Online.

Stoke-on-Trent North Constituency



BADDELEY Melanie JaneBNP3196 
FISHER John MalcolmLib7120 
LARGE AndyCon9580 
LOCKE Geoffrey Lewis EdwardUKIP2485 
WALLEY Joan LorraineLab17815Elected

Stoke-on-Trent Central Constituency


BHATTI NorsheenCon6833 
BREEZE Paul DerrickInd959 
DARBY SimonBNP2505 
ELSBY GaryUn399 
HUNT TristramLab12604Elected
REDFERN John PhillipLib7039 
WALKER AlbyInd295 
WARD BrianCity Ind303 


Stoke-on-Trent South Constituency


ALI ZulfiqarLib6323 
BARLOW Mark HarryUKIP1363 
BREEZE MarkInd434 
COLEMAN MichaelBNP3762 
FLELLO RobLab15446Elected
RUSHTON James StuartCon11316 

Lab – Labour Party
Con – Conservative Party
Lib – Liberal Democrates
BNP – British National Party
City Ind – City Independent
Ind – Independent
UKIP – UK Independence Party
TUSC – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
SIG – Staffordfordshire Independent Group
EFP – England First Party
Un – Unaffiliated

Stoke-on-Trent Central won by Tristram Hunt – Labour

Stoke-on-Trent Central seat was won by Labour Candidate Tristram Hunt. With 12,604 votes.

Hunt was heckled throughout his speech by former Independent Councillor Jenny Holdcroft.



Full Result:  Stoke-on-Trent Central Constituency

BHATTI NorsheenCon6833 
BREEZE Paul DerrickInd959 
DARBY SimonBNP2505 
ELSBY GaryUn399 
HUNT TristramLab12604Elected
REDFERN John PhillipLib7039 
WALKER AlbyInd295 
WARD BrianCity Ind303 

500 Words From Norsheen Bhatti Conservative PPC Stoke-on-Trent Central

**Archive Story From 2010 Election**

The only way we can stop the BNP in Stoke, get our local economy moving and sort
out the problems our country is facing is if people vote Conservative.

As a daughter of a factory worker born and bred in the Midlands, with family in Stoke and having studied at Keele University, I understand local peoples concerns.

I want to change the way Labour has let down our families, damaged our city and destroyed our country.

We need jobs, industry, better housing, healthcare, services and I will lead the way to cleaning up our city as well as cleaning up politics.

As the election campaign progresses, more and more people are realising that the only real alternative to this failed Labour government is the modern Conservative Party. That’s a decision I made myself last year when, inspired by David Cameron’s strong message of change, I left the Liberal Democrats to join
the Conservatives.

One thing that prompted me to change is David Cameron’s commitment to making sure that the party reflects all communities in the United Kingdom.

But the main reason I got involved in politics was to make a difference in society and help people help themselves. So I was delighted to be selected as the Conservative candidate for Stoke Central in December 2009.

This is a constituency that has been badly let down by 13 years of a Labour government and 26 years of a Labour MP. Some people, feeling that their concerns are being ignored by the Labour Party, are even thinking of voting BNP.

So I am fighting hard to get our positive and optimistic message out there, to show the people of Stoke the big difference the Conservatives could make for local people, our families and the area.

We’ll support our families by freezing council tax and fighting back against crime. We’ve pledged 22,500 new apprenticeships in the West Midlands to tackle local youth unemployment. We will encourage new business and industry to set up in the area and provide local people with the skills and training they need to do the jobs created.

We’ll raise the basic state pension and keep benefits like Winter Fuel Allowance, TV licences and free bus pass travel.

At this election we face a choice of five more years of Labour or the BNP getting in and making things worse or voting Conservative and David Cameron for a fresh start who has the energy, leadership and values to get Stoke and our country moving again.