Recently in The New Localism Category

If you value it, vote for it So David Cameron says he'd like to see UK referenda on local taxation and much else; whilst another Conservative says they want to do away with regional development agencies - though local councils may thereafter join up to reinstate these if they wish. But some of us recall the damage done to northern parts by the abolition in 1986 of the Metropolitan County Councils, and the energy invested later on in having to re-create the regional development agenda. Will local democracy really be enhanced by taking decision-making away from elected councillors?

Read more about Political Process & Democracy.

Your views are welcome.

Roadworks & people 79x85 054a.jpg If anything belongs to ‘the people’, it is surely the streets where we live and work. Streets are usually owned by the public authorities who exist to serve our interests. But where are the civic procedures to reflect this common ownership in renewing or developing the public realm? And who and where are the ‘communities’ which must be consulted?

I recently contributed to a masterclass on community engagement in development of the public realm.

The scope for discussion was wide. ‘Public realm' can be streets, highways, open spaces, parks, brownfield sites and even waterways and ponds. Where does one start? And who is entitled to have a say?

Origins and ideas
Public realm works often start from a plan by the authorities to renew or regenerate an area of deprivation or poor housing, or perhaps because a new system of roads and highways is about to be constructed.

Sometimes, however, the initiative comes from a group of interested or concerned ‘community stakeholders’ – perhaps people who live or work in the area, or people who have a concern for the environment (in whatever guise) or, for instance, conservation and heritage.

Where are the place-makers?
All these are legitimate origins, but they are different. What happens next however tends to be more monochrome, more ‘standard issue’.

The idea of place-making seems over time to have been mislaid.

Legitimacy and control
If a proposal to improve the public realm is integral to a wider regeneration programme, the way ahead is clear: community consultation is the next step.

But who is held to comprise ‘the community’ will often be determined largely by those formally 'in charge' of the overall developments, rather than by that community (or communities?) itself.

Physical ownership or social stakehold?
The temptation to take the easy route, to see the public realm as simply physical space, is great. If it's that, the relevant authorities can just get on with it, consulting along the way about how members of the public would like their pavements, bins or street lamps to look. (See e.g. an example of 'another' Liverpool, looking at another way to consider 'place making' and 'liveability'....)

But this is an dreadful waste of an opportunity for engagement between civic officials and those who pay them. How much better to work towards wide involvement of the people who live and work on those streets, even if this does take more time and effort.

'Community' voices
Communities do not comprise just one sort of person - there are many voices which must be heard - but if we want people to come together for the common good, developing a shared sense of place is an excellent starting point.

We need then to begin by recognising whilst physical location is a given, the variety of people and interests which comprise meaningful stakehold is large.

New skills for new challenges
Involving the general public as stakeholders in their localities is still an emerging art.

Those who currently have the knowledge and experience to implement improvements to the public realm are perhaps unlikely, without stepping outside their formal roles, or perhaps further training, to be the best people also to engage communities to the extent which is required.

'Translating' knowledge and skills
Here, yet again, is an instance of the need for 'translation' in delivery between professional knowledge and the skills required to reach deep into often - though not always - disadvantaged communities.

The public realm is exactly what it says it is - the place where, ideally, we all encounter each other, safely, comfortably and constructively.

Getting everyone involved
Perhaps the move towards Local / Multi Area Agreements (LAAs and MLAs) and regular Your Community Matters-style events will help to encourage meaningful engagement for the future.

Whatever, the challenge is to make the public realm everywhere a place where everyone really can feel they are a part of the action.

Read more about Urban Renewal

Learning From BURA

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
BURA Logo.(small).jpg Membership of the British Urban Regeneration Association has helped me to see a wider picture of renaissance and renewal in the U.K. Lessons learned include: 1. Wider stakeholder engagement is vital right from the start of a proposed regeneration programme. 2. Environmental sustainability also needs to be built in from the start. 3. There is a need, increasingly recognised, to 'translate' the perspectives and understandings of different players at all levels in the process of renewal.

I’ve been a member of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) almost since its beginnings. They held an early event in an enormous marquee on the brownfield site of the old Liverpool Speke Airport, now home to the Liverpool South Marriott Hotel; and somehow HOPES, the community-led charity which I chair, was invited to send a representative.

Now, a decade or so later, I am delighted just to have been elected to the BURA Board of Directors.

So the past few weeks have been a steep learning curve for me.

Engaging in the business
Firstly there was a visit to the BURA offices in Hatton Garden, London, where I met the very busy and welcoming officers and staff. There’s nothing like seeing people actually at their workstations for perceiving how involved and interconnected their business is.

Then I found myself in Manchester, chairing a BURA Forum of practitioners from all sorts of backgrounds who are connected with that city. And again, a few weeks later, I attended a dinner in that same location where we discussed the issues currently facing the construction industry, as it moves towards a more coherent and cohesive identity.

And finally this week I went to my first full Board meeting, in London – an event where, new girl as I am, I felt immediate resonance with many of my own concerns and interests, but in the course of which I also discovered a great deal more about the wide and fascinating remit of BURA overall.

An emerging consensus
Three things have struck me particularly about everything I’ve seen and experienced over the past couple of months.

Firstly, there is a rapidly emerging new core emphasis on what it means to talk about stakeholding in regeneration and renewal. At last it seems to be understood (a) that the engagement of wider stakeholders (for which read, ‘the community’ and others who have no direct commercial or public service interest) is not a desirable add-on to be pursued once the main objectives of a programme have been determined; but, rather (b) that without the insights and active consent of at least the majority of those unto whom a programme will be ‘done’, there is little point in the programme anyway. And this applies whether one considers the proposals from a straight business or from a wider social perspective..... Look no further than this week's High Court judgement on proposed Edge Lane (Eastern Approach) developments in Liverpool, for evidence of the impact an individual - the doughty Elizabeth Pascoe in this case - can have on a situation where, in some people's view, more emphasis should have been given early on to stakeholder issues.

Secondly, the consensus now developing offers a much more integral position on environmental sustainability. Again, those involved in regeneration now concur that this needs to be built into their plans right from the beginning, especially since energy will often be produced much more locally to its destination in the future.

And the third lesson so far? It’s that the sort of tasks I tend to find myself undertaking these days will become even more an aspect of professional activity in the future. There is sometimes a real need, now much more commonly acknowledged than previously, to ‘translate’ the work and understandings of given parts of a professional team to people in other parts of it; and often on top of this there is also a requirement to translate the perceptions of wider stakeholders to the professionals (and vice versa). Sometimes this has to be done on a ‘salvage’ basis, to re-stabilise a programme already under way, and other times it can be undertaken, more comfortably, far earlier in proceedings.

The humble joined-up approach
I suspect we are seeing the establishment of a new phase in now-maturing regeneration good practice.

For some while there has been considerable consensus about the core skills and activities which comprise most of the professions relating to regeneration. There are now established paradigms around particular professional contributions to regeneration, with all the power and conviction which arises from clearly defined and accredited expertise.

Alongside this however I detect a growing realisation that with acknowledged power and expertise must come a new humility, a genuine desire to learn from other stakeholders of all sorts (and as early on as possible) if regeneration programmes are to achieve their objectives. Whether it’s renewable energy specialists talking with construction engineers and planners, or developers and local residents trying to communicate with each other, everyone is having to articulate their positions very clearly, whilst they also try to perceive how other people see things.

It’s these wider perceptions about how we can learn from each other which BURA’s developing agenda will help to bring about.

Mayoral 'shield' (small) 06.9.5 001.jpg The campaign for a debate about elected Mayors promotes ideas of democratic involvement and public accountability. It is for these reasons, not as a short-hand way to achieve city-regions, that this campaign should be encouraged. Even if elected Mayors become the norm, towns and cities will still need major regional input if they are to be effective players within Britain.

It's not reallly news that some major cities have problems pulling things together to achieve progress; and nor, to be frank, is it news that Liverpool often seems to be amongst that number.

This is why I believe people should support the campaign for a referendum on a Mayor for Liverpool. For the referendum to happen would require 5% of those elegible to vote in the city to support it... not many one may think, but actually quite a proportion to raise in Liverpool, the city with the lowest election turn-out in the country. In my view, almost anything which encourages people in places like Liverpool to think positively about voting is a good thing.

Elected Mayors as housekeepers
It doesn't however follow that, because moves to consider elected mayors are supported, that wide-ranging powers for such persons should necessarily be the order of the day. Cities like Liverpool need a named 'responsible person', who can bang heads together to get things done, and who must be prepared to take the flack if things don't work. This person could be seen as taking the role of housekeeper, ensuring that things happen as they should, and that, for instance, streets and parks are clean and safe, events occur to schedule and budget, bids and proposals are submitted on time and well prepared etc.

It would be important for an elected Mayor to have defined, and achieved a consensus on, for instance, what is his / her role, and what is that of the City Chief Executive / Directorates, and of elected Councillors.

Not city-regions
Bioscience Liverpool 06.7.30 001.jpg Nor should it be assumed that an elected Mayor would take the lead role in the mooted city-regions. There may well be a role for city-regions as sub-regions, but that debate is still emerging and it is not for me convincing. In the end an excessive emphasis on city-regions not only loses the 'hinterland' of any metropoils, but also ignores the reality of regional infrastructure.

No toen or city in the UK outside London is on its own large enough to plan major transport, business development, or scientific investment. The things can only properly be addressed at regional level; as indeed they are in most parts of Europe.

City regions and their merits or otherwise are a different debate from the current discussion about elected Mayors. If there's now a decent debate about elected Mayors, that will be a good start. Maybe it will strengthen interest in the democratic process. And if it also encourages the idea that those who claim to give the lead require support, but must also be prepared to account very openly for their performance, that will be an excellent bonus.

Woman with political rosette, detail (small) 80x81.jpg Cities like Liverpool still seem to have a problem about 'strong women'. On-going changes of civic leadership in the city offer an opportunity for the chaps to disprove suspicions that they continue to hold this antiquated attitude across all spheres of influence. Institutional sexism has no place in an adult and forward-looking city.

Recent turbulence in Liverpool's civic leadership has set me thinking about what comes next. Do we want more of the same, or do we want something fresher and more responsive than the present arrangements?

This is a city with a tradition of behind-the-scenes chaps' groups who met for luncheon and called themselves 'The Big Four' (or is it Super Six, or First Eleven, or Secret Seventeen?), and which has no, repeat no, really serious power-brokers outside Westminster who sometimes wear skirts. (There are some fine women out there doing excellent jobs, but they ain't at the top of local government in Liverpool.)

Does Liverpool have a problem about women?
I'm certainly not of the view that women are necessarily 'better' than men in any respect, or that change necessarily means feminisation. But I do think, on the basis of many years' experience, that this is a city which still has problems with welcoming the input of strong women. Maybe that's not just a characteristic of Liverpool, but we are quite evidently trailing in the so-called Equal Opportunities stakes, as the Mersey Partnership Gender Agenda illustrates all too painfully.

Equality of opportunity is also best use of human resource
This isn't just (though it is anyway) a matter of equity. This is a matter of the optimum use of resource, including talent, knowledge and understanding. In cities like Liverpool (I assume there are others too) problems seem to be 'solved' by top-down directives. Maybe that was necessary at one stage; but it won't take us up to the next level - at least, not in my opinion a next level which in the long-run will do us any good.

Using human resources well means accommodating different styles and different perspectives. Even putting aside the compelling moral case, the fundamental reason that equal opportunities is critical is that any other way wastes potential to serve the best interests of everyone. (Has someone forgotten that over half the population is female?)

Sometimes men of influence are afraid of women who are strong
Men and women across the globe are in the end much the same; the variations within each gender are usually greater than the differences between the genders when it comes to work, decisions, personal choices and so forth. We (nearly) all want what's best, we (nearly) all want decent, effective decision-making. So theoretically it doesn't matter whether our leaders are men or women, as long as they're able and of good faith.

But in one respect Liverpool at least hasn't got there yet. The chaps who decide things - not all of them, but some - are not yet prepared to change their perceptions, to see individuals for what they can bring to the party, rather than what they wear (to be facetious, a skirt or a tie?). Whilst the city continues to be run by an unspoken convention about what sort of person is 'appropriate' for serious influence, leadership and decision-making - and challenge as you may, demonstrating this convention isn't the case is very difficult - we are desperately missing a trick.

Influence and leadership across the board
Covert sexism in Liverpool applies whether we're looking at the Town Hall, the local economy or community development and involvement. There is an inflexibility somewhere in 'the system' which results I suspect from insecurity and / or protectionism masquerading as traditional, definitive leadership. And this overall leadership, as we have seen, is hugely male-dominated.

Current civic changes offer a chance for those decision-makers who really do care about the best interests of us all now to deliver something more inclusive and thereby also more effective for the whole community.

We shall be a Grown Up City when, and only when, the Chaps are no longer afraid of Strong Women.

The 'health economy' is much discussed but little defined idea. Within local health-care provision it carries an assumed status which it is perhaps now time to challenge. We don't in everyday parlance between managers talk of an 'education economy'; so why a 'health economy'? Many of us would defend very strongly the concept of essential health care free at the point of delivery, but the idea of a closed specialist health economy may not be the best strategic vehicle to ensure delivery of such modern, responsive and effective health care.

There's a fair amount of excitement around the changes in the National Health Service these days. Big shifts are about to occur in the shape, goegraphical and structural, of Primary Care Trusts, Stratgeic Health Authorities and much else. And in amongst all the other deliberations there is much reference to the 'health economy'.

What is the 'health economy'?
Now is probably not the best time to go into the pluses and minuses of the strategic plans for the various strands of the NHS; feelings are running high and there's a lot to sort out yet. But it may well be a good time to ask, just what is the 'health economy'?

This is a very particular notion, and possibly not a very helpful one. In the U.K. at least it seems mostly to refer the range of business and economic activities which fall within the scope of government-led medical attention. Nonetheless, it is by no means as easy as one might imagine to find a definition of what the health economy actually is, as opposed to simply references to it in the contexts of other health-related activity. 'Health professions', 'health care' or 'health economics', yes, there are many formal references and links; but 'health economy'.... if you know of a good weblink or text book, please tell us!

A constraining concept
Perhaps it's time to stop using this term at all. With the newer ways of delivering health care (even though this is still more likely to be 'illness and medical care', rather than 'well-being and health promotion care') the interface between different types of providers is becoming more blurred. The intention of the NHS to provide essential care free at the point of delivery remains, whoever is giving it, but the economic links are of necessity becoming far more complex.

New opportunities
There are many ways in which a more fluid concept of health-related activity might widen the scope for responsive delivery. We don't hear about the 'education economy', 'arts economy' or 'science economy' as every day notions; they're all part of, for instance, a much bigger knowledge economy. Perhaps less talk of the 'health economy' will open up more visible opportunities for local social enterprise and business engagement in flexible and client-responsive health care provision; and that in turn may perhaps also help local investment and regeneration in a much broader way.

Liverpool's physical location and economic situation make it difficult for some local people to know much about what's happening elsewhere. This is turn results in difficulties in determining locally which new ideas for the city are good, and which less so. The proposed 'How Do They Do It?' programme could help here... but only if those who are able to do so actively support the idea.

There was a letter in the Liverpool Daily Post of 10 February, in which local commentator John Elcock writes of his concern that we in Liverpool should not reject everything that's new in the city. He refers to his sadness about the 'growing culture of parochialism in a city that used to trade ideas with the world.'

John's letter is specifically about proposed new architectural designs in Liverpool; but I fear his remarks might also apply to other parts of our cultural and civic life.

Liverpool pride
I came to live in Liverpool 35 years ago this week, having never before had the opportunity to visit this city. There was plenty to be proud of for Liverpool's citizens - its University, its Royal Orchestra, its fine Cathedrals, Theatres and Museums, its wonderful architecture; and of course the conviction of those who lived here that there could never be a better place to be.

Pride in one's city is a fine thing, and fundamentally necessary for well-being and future success. But, unexamined, it can also be an obstacle to progress. Despite the ravages of the 1980s, we still have our flagship centres of learning and culture and our wonderful buildings; but somehow their backdrop is now more self-defensive, more openly unaccommodating of new ideas and of the give-and-take of modern life.

And Liverpool parochialism?
Many people in Liverpool do not even know about the lives of their neighbours at the other end of their own city, let alone those down the road in Manchester, Birmingham, London or perhaps further afield. Perhaps in previous times this knowledge was less essential; but now, when our young people do know about the opportunities elsewhere, many decide to leave Liverpool for pastures new.

This is a serious issue of opportunity and of cost. It is a legacy of comfort zone living, being unable to move beyond one's own boundaries because of lack of money, lack of knowledge of what to do or where to go to find out new things, small opportunity to see why comparing our own and others' experience might be useful. The cost of such tight horizons is sometimes difficulty, as John Elcock suggests, in being able to judge which new ideas for Liverpool are 'right', and which 'wrong'.

Opportunities to compare and learn
I don't write these observations to criticise, but rather to suggest a new opportunity and a way forward. For several years there have been proposals for a civic and educational programme based in Liverpool and called 'How Do They Do It?'.

The idea would be to support small groups of young and older people together, as they visit other places, as guests of that town or city, to see what has been achieved (public service, enterprise, architecture and culture, whatever...) and how it was done. This would then be reported back in whatever way to our own people in Liverpool. Likewise, citizens of other places could - and indeed through the European Capital of Culture programme will - come as our guests to see what we in Liverpool do exceptionally well, and to report it back to their own neighbours and fellow townspeople.

Travel these days is easy, few towns and cities, whether in Britain or in continental Europe, cannot find a way to welcome guests who come in goodwill to learn together. Which businesses, schools and colleges, residents associations, religious organisations, individuals or whoever, can join us in making this ambition to share experience, with all the benefits it would bring to ourselves and others, a reality?

People - abstract (small).jpgHuman geographers have offered many insights into equality and the effects of socio-economic policy in recent years, but social processes require a different research perspective to understand fully what is happening. In the 1950s and 60s sociologists such as Willmott and Young told us about the dynamics of communities, for instance, in the East End of London; and this perspective is now beginning once more to illuminate these changes and their challenges. There is nonetheless still little general understanding of how difficult it is to 'get things right' in such complex settings.

Professor Danny Dorling is, in the words of Mary O'Hara (The Guardian, 8 February 2006), 'the man who maps the social reality behind raw data'. His work has, we are told, demonstrated that where a person is born remains the primary determinant of their status, health and wealth in later life.

This is important work, though hardly a new finding. What marks it out is the directness of the communication of these critical facts of life, of, again in Mary O'Hara's words, 'publicising important findings beyond the pages of academic journals.... of humanising abstract facts'.

Processing data, explaining process
For Danny Dorling, the 'key thing' if we want to make the world a better place is that we 'recognise what's happening'. He's been very effective in helping policy makers and politicians to do this, one way or another. And his latest project is an even bigger picture: seeks to show what's up across the whole of the world.

This is excellent stuff. Nobody could deny that the facts and figures are critical ... and here, along with some other geographers such as those at the Local Futures Group, Professor Dorling serves us well. The relentless pursuit of empirical data by which to examine the outcomes of political and other developments is essential to learning how to do it better.

But there is another aspect to all this. We have considered before in this weblog the work of Willmott and Young, begun almost a half-century ago in the East End of London.

During the Thatcher years of the Conservative Government (1980s especially) there was little appetite for studying social process. Margaret Thatcher may or may not have actually pronounced that 'There is no such thing as society', but few failed to grasp the idea that looking at social issues like equality was not the thing to do. This had severe effects on social science in the UK, - one result of which, it could be argued, is that geography had to step in where sociologists then feared to tread.

The 'facts' can take us to the actions
There has been for some while a shortage of social statisticians in the UK, and this is recognised to be a continuing problem. Nonetheless, the analysis of social trends is, as specialists in all disciplines would readily acknowledge, an issue to be addressed from many different persepctives.

In this sense, it is especially interesting that the very same edition of The Guardian which carries the article about Professor Dorling also carries one about a current follow-up to the original Willmott and Young studies in the East End of London. Professor Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron, both Fellows of the Young Foundation, have produced a book co-authored by the late (Lord) Michael Young entitled The New East End - Kinship, Race and Conflict.

Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron discuss in their Guardian article the unanticipated consequences of 'well intentioned welfare policy'. They suggest, for instance, that supporting newcomers (in this case, from the Bangladeshi community) who experience racial discrimination must go hand in hand with addressing the exclusion and hostility faced by poor white communities. If we do not examine how well-intentioned policies apply across the board we will, they argue with some reason, find that things don't work out as we'd all like.

Multi-disciplinary is best
At some level it feels as though the wheel has now turned full circle. There are many social and policy researchers who strive to examine and support the extension of 'what works' (see e.g. the ODPM and Civil Service positions on diversity and disadvantage). The more that human geographers, social scientists, economists and others can collaborate on all this, the more hope there is that we can get it right.

But in the meantime it might be helpful just occasionally if certain parts of our society - for such it is - recognised that the aims of social cohesion, sustainability and the rest are at best challeging and at worst almost unachievable in our imperfect world.

Why can't we think of the journey as one where inevitably mistakes will be made, and where it's OK for policy makers and politicians to change tack when the evidence that we need to do so is compelling? Change is fundamental to progress, as much in social policy as anywhere else.

'Permission' for decision-makers to listen, learn and act
Giving politicians 'permission' to listen and learn is essential in the drive to change the circumstances of people who really need support, encouragement and new opportunities. This is positive social engineering with the very best of intentions. It must succeed, in the interests of us all - disadvantaged or not.

Flexible but determined policy making is not easily achieved when the evidence for policy change becomes instead, in the hands of the media, 'evidence' that politicians always get it wrong, and maybe nothing should be done at all.

Read more articles on Social Science

Daresbury Lab. & Innovation Centre Big Science is a central part of the U.K. economy. The Knowledge Economy, with science and technology as the tangible drivers, is critical to economic success. But for many involved in regeneration Big Science remains a mystery, especially at the level of the ‘new localism’. This paper offers real examples of regeneration strategies, science policy and how science has synergy with, and impact on, economies at regional and local level.

The Golden Triangle and the Holy Grail of the Triple Helix…….
Big Science, Technology and the New Localism

Hilary Burrage

[This is a longer version of the CLES Local Work: Voice paper of February 2006, entitled Knowledge Economies and Big Science: A challenge for governance]

Knowledge-Led Regeneration, Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions and Science Policy.

Daresbury Lab. & Innovation Centre Modern science is massive. That’s why it’s often referred to as Big Science. The costs (and sometimes the rewards), the numbers of people involved, the management and resource levels and the skills required – all are very, very high. And yet… to most of us, science remains effectively invisible.

Away from the public eye
The invisibility of science is curious; it probably arises from a number of different factors:

· Big Science, like (say) public motorways, is paid for by money from very high up the funding chain. Decisions on funding are made at national (and international) level by people of whom almost no-one outside their particular sphere of influence has heard. But unlike motorways, which we can at least see, we rarely encounter Big Science directly in our daily lives. It therefore remains off our radar.

· Most of us know very little about what science is ‘for’ and how it works. The numbers of school children studying science in their later, elective years is still falling, as are numbers of degree students. We are not therefore conscious of the ways in which science gives rise to things with which we are familiar, from shampoo to plastics to machines.

· Whilst information technology and health are of interest to many people, they do not see these matters as ‘scientific’. (Nor, incidentally, do many practitioners in the health and IT fields themselves see this connection very clearly.)

· Whether science and science-related practitioners see themselves as having a linked core interest or not, they nonetheless usually believe that their work has little or nothing to do with the wider worlds of public involvement and politics. There may be issues arising from science and technology (which I shall refer to from now on as SciTech) for others to address around economics or ethics, but what happens in the labs is the main concern – and this is observed by very few.

· Science is likewise not a vote-catcher. It is unusual for the electorate to invest much time and energy pursuing issues around this theme; which means that in general neither the media nor politicians spend much time considering it either.

Returning then to the comparison with motorways, both may be very expensive, but Big Science is almost always off limits for the public at large – it is often located within universities or on special campuses of some sort, very much less visible than a large road.

Does Big Science need to be visible?
Daresburry Lab. & Innovation Centre 001.jpg But why should invisibility matter? After all, we may well not think about science very much, but every region of the United Kingdom has its own science and technology parks, where scientists and technologists rub shoulders with business and commercial people. These parks may not be in our thoughts a great deal, but they create jobs and inward investment and are often key parts of regeneration strategies.

In general we do not see the vaccine research laboratories, the synchrotrons, or the materials science analysts at work. But so what if they’re not ‘visible’? Does it really matter?

Answers to this question can be given at a number of levels; but in all cases the answer is Yes, invisibility does indeed matter.

The invisibility of Big Science reduces:
· public interest and involvement;
· the number of young people who will have an interest in SciTech as a career;
· engagement with industry and business;
· influence in matters of planning and infrastructure;
· opportunities to procure regeneration, at both practical and strategic levels.

Some of the follow-on repercussions of this invisibility are obvious; others are less so.

And the consequences are likewise different for different terrains. The ‘hothouse’ of the Golden Triangle [roughly, that area covering London, Oxbridge and the M4 / 5 corridors] is probably less directly vulnerable than, say, a Science Park in Northern England.

But it is at least possible that every part of the high level Knowledge Economy is disadvantaged by the inequity and uneven distribution of synergies between ‘hothouse’ and more isolated facilities. The former is becoming stressed, the latter need more support and development of capacity.

The Triple Helix of Innovation
It is now accepted that it is the synthesis of Universities, Industry and Government - the ‘Triple Helix’ - which brings about serious SciTech innovation. This Triple Helix, as we shall see, is in effect the Holy Grail to a vibrant knowledge-led twenty first century economy.

The world wide web may keep researchers and others in touch, but there is nothing like direct involvement from the big investment players to secure scientific progress in a given location. In other words, ad hoc development of SciTech facilities will take a local economy so far, but not far enough. Only strategic planning on a grand scale, and by with all parties working together, will however produce the sort of results which make a significant difference. And that means involvement at the highest levels of decision-making.

A corollary of this scenario is that people at all points on the decision-making ‘chain’ need to be aware of the complexities of SciTech. Again, this is more likely to be the case in the Golden Triangle, than in our off-the-map Northern Science Park. When a lot of local people are employed in SciTech jobs at the highest levels, as in the Golden Triangle, awareness of science and technology will be far greater than when this is not the case. Dispersed discreet locations without significant business links are on their own unlikely to change the local business or political perspective about what is important. – what does this mean for us and our knowledge economies?

The Daresbury Connection
A case in point here is the Daresbury Laboratory near Warrington, in the North West of England. This establishment, much of the work of which is as a world leader in the field of high energy physics, had been in existence for some decades, collaborating with the University of Liverpool and several other higher education and research laboratories.

By the mid-nineteen nineties, however, Daresbury had become something of an island unto itself, still conducting worthy international research but effectively disconnected from its locality, the local business / industrial base, and, critically, the political and administrative decision-making process.

The result of this disconnection was that the warning flags were not hoisted around the North West when the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, based in the Golden Triangle, decided to bid against Daresbury to the CCLRC (Central Council of the Laboratories of the Research Councils) to construct and operate DIAMOND, the planned third generation synchrotron - an intense light source which propels sub-atomic particles at extraordinary speeds in order to effect particle collisions for academic research and industrial / medical purposes.

By the approach of the Millennium it was becoming clear that Daresbury’s initial understanding about where the new light source would be placed were at best optimistic, although by then numbers of local and national politicians and others had also become involved in Daresbury’s attempt to secure the research funds which it had assumed were coming to the North West.

Similarly, and too late in the day, the North West Development Agency recognised that this was not simply a matter of ruffled feathers in academia, bur rather a matter of serious consequence for the whole of the region. Conferences were held, industrial and business liaisons established, plans proposed for collaboration with a number of the North West’s leading universities and hospitals - from which was later to be developed a proposal for a much more broadly-based programme of academic and applied science (CASIM). It was however too late to secure DIAMOND, and the contract went to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, taking with it some of Daresbury’s most highly skilled technicians.

An emerging perception of how Big Science fits the national economy.
It slowly transpired, however, that all was not lost when Daresbury had to concede DIAMOND (and thus much of its future funding) to Rutherford Appleton. The North West campaign to retain support for the Laboratory had by then gained considerable momentum. Regeneration and strategic planners across the region had begun to realise that here was a facility which no-one could afford to see as an ivory tower. The science and technology might be extremely complex, but it was not simply a toy for boffins; it was potentially an enormous asset to the North West region and beyond. (And besides, for many local people, the campaign had become a matter of civic pride – a factor which politicians and planners ignore at their peril!)

Interestingly, the collapse of Daresbury’s expectations at this time also proved to be a watershed for national governmental understandings of the interaction between Big Science and the economy, nationally and regionally. The model in use at the time of the DIAMOND decision was essentially that of straightforward competition.

It had hitherto been accepted – though perhaps largely on face-value – that the physical location of Big Science facilities should be brokered only on the basis of the preferences of direct partners and funders (the Wellcome Foundation, a massive funding body, was particularly vociferous about supporting only Rutherford Appleton - already, through long-standing connections between key Oxbridge players, a Wellcome partner in a number of activities).

Media outcry
The North West media outcry about losing DIAMOND also coincided with the beginnings of a repositioning nationally about how Big Science was to be taken forward. It was slowly dawning on national decision-makers that, whilst the quality of the science itself had to be (by a very long way) the lead criterion for the allocation of funding at this level, the project evaluation playing field was nonetheless not entirely even.

For instance, whilst it might perhaps be valid to suggest that more immediate business and industrial benefit might accrue from investment in the South East, the ultimate benefit of funding to the North West might be greater in terms of its impact on the regional economy.

Similarly, scientists of the very highest order might in general have been found in greater numbers in the Golden Triangle, this was not an excuse for failing to invest in research and development in the universities of the North West. As has subsequently been demonstrated, top scientists are willing in significant numbers to follow the most challenging science, wherever it is located - especially if the costs of housing etc are lower, as well.

Daresburry Lab. & Innovation Centre 004.jpg And so we come to the present day story of Daresbury Laboratory. Daresbury has attracted a number of new and very senior staff to support outstanding colleagues based in North West universities, it has connected with business, industrial, strategic and political interests throughout the region, and it has established a fast-growing SciTech park led by major NW companies. Not every part of CASIM proved to be deliverable (the medical applications especially proved difficult, perhaps of the way that hospital-based research is supported); but Daresbury most importantly has secured the Fourth Generation Light Source programme, which will make it the world leader in this field.

The lessons of Daresbury
The Daresbury saga is salutary in a number of respects.

First, it demonstrates the increasingly competitive nature of SciTech, and especially Big Science, in modern economies.

Second, it shows that all parts of the Triple Helix – collaboration between universities, industries and the state – are essential in order to secure the sort of funding required for present day Big Science programmes.

And third, it illustrates very well the need for scientists, politicians and other public and private sector decision-makers at regional and sub-regional / local levels to remain alert, if they are to ensure adequate funding and other strategic support for prestigious and regenerationally effective SciTech enterprises.

There are therefore important lessons to be learned at regional and sub-regional levels.

Regionalism and the New Localism
One of the most defining aspects of Big Science is its internationalism. In the U.K. almost all Big Science projects will have a European aspect, probably under one of the European Union Frameworks for Science (we are currently on our 6th, and the 7th is under negotiation); and most projects will also be attached in some respects to laboratories such as, for instance, those at M.I.T. or CalTech in the United States.

This huge span of expertise and personnel arises largely organically in the first instance. Most serious scientists and technologists barely recognise national boundaries in their academic and applied work. Venture capital and the very high level knowledge economy have an operational syntax all of their own.

These facts of scientific life put notions of the ‘New Localism’ and of City Regions in a different light. They are, to be blunt, too small as areas and populations on their own to be realistic players in the battle for Big Science.

To illustrate this, the European Union recognises a number of population bases – NUTS, or Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics – of which the most commonly used in NUTS 1, or areas containing 3 - 7 million people. NUTS 1 areas are the size of major administrative units in most European countries; in fact, about the size of each of the English regions, and of Scotland and Wales respectively. City Regions are usually NUTS 2 size – 0.8 - 3 million people, and outside capital cities do not generally in most of Europe have autonomous governance.

Given that the annual budget of connected major Big Science programmes can approach that of the government of a small European country it is obviously not possible for them to operate at, say, the city region level . They require massive financial backing in terms of regional infrastructural support and they require equally massive buy-in from business and industry. And of course they need very significant numbers of available in-house expertise from local universities and other research institutions.

No non-capital town or city on its own is likely to be able to provide the levels of support required to secure significant Big Science onto its patch. The North West Development Agency and / or the Northern Way, for instance, can take full part as lead players; individual sub-regional cities, however otherwise important, can only be bit players on the Big Science stage.

The challenge for the New Localism
The message of Big Science is not entirely encouraging for those who eschew regionalism and seek preeminence for city-regions - not least because in reality most major cities simply don’t have the actual physical space, let alone the budget, to secure Big Science for themselves alone.

This is one scenario where, whatever applies elsewhere, only a shared and regional approach, or more, will do. For the U.K. at least this means that, if Big Science growth is to occur outside the Golden Triangle, the Holy Grail of the Triple Helix must be pursued by everyone, regardless of inter-city or inter-university rivalries or of otherwise competing interests between industries and businesses.

National Government must develop a policy on regional science, and regions and sub-regions must likewise respond to the opportunities such a policy would bring.

Read more about Knowledge-Led Regeneration, Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions and Science Policy.

The RENEW Northwest Intelligence Report just published (January 2006) on 'Making a difference: Participation and wellbeing' marks an important step forward in our notions of volunteering and its outcomes. Professor Carolyn Kagan suggests that community activists often find their 'work' stressful and unrewarding. It is indeed time we re-examined the notion of 'putting something back'; but we shouldn't assume that only those who live in difficult circumstances can share common cause in regeneration and renewal. People with professional skills who themselves become involved as volunteers can also find the going very hard - as any regeneration professionals taking Prof. Kagan's advice to 'practise what they preach' might well discover.

Given that work-related stress has long been known to be related to powerlessness and / or impossible demands, I'm surprised it's taken so long... but now we have the official acknowledgement that community engagement by volunteers can be as stressful as it can be rewarding.

In her report Making a difference: Participation and wellbeing (Renew Northwest, 2006) Professor Carolyn Kagan from Manchester Metropolitan University suggests that, 'far from being a source of wellbeing, participation can actually increase stress.' Community activists, she has found, work 'under unrelenting pressure: isolated, without supervision, coping with local conflict, without time off - and without pay.'

'Consulting residents about a regeneration project,' we are told, 'is a top-down system which can often result in local needs being defined by the professionals, with little 'ownership' by residents.' (This worries me a bit; isn't it helpful that there be professionally experienced people genuinely embedded in all communities, so that issues wider than the parocial are also 'stakeheld' by all concerned?)

Who are the 'community activists'?
Nonetheless, Prof. Kagan has a very valid point. You only have to become a little involved to see that the people who are most active in 'communities' are also often those who are least impressed by what is being achieved around them, and that despondency is often the name of the game.

And you can also fairly quickly see that the powers-that-be, probably without conscious intent, often play their own games in this, favouring some groups and individuals against others, hoovering up ideas and regurgitating them as 'policy' to be 'explained' to the hapless people who first thought of it, and generally bureaucratising whatever they touch. (Of course some degree of bureaucracy is essential; but some of it is also rather convenient in terms of how officialdom chooses to engage with the punter.)

But there is another question too: why should be assumed that 'community activists' are necessarily 'tenants' or 'residents' or always themselves live in a 'community' (whatever that means) which itself struggles? Sometimes this specific sort of engagement is the only legitimate way forward, but many other issues which need addressing are wider than that.

'Activists' come in all shapes and sizes
Is there no commonality between all the sorts of people who work voluntarily to gain benefit for different 'communities'? Aren't local political parties and, say, religious leaders and charitable organisations all run on the basis of very little financial reward for a lot of hard slog?

The people involved in these organisations may well be articulate, easily able to make their case and very committed to involving everyone - but they are often just as stressed by the response of officialdom as anyone else. In fact, it could be thought that they are even less well received by regeneration bureacrats than are those with fewer recognised and assets, precisely because they are seen by the powers-that-be as more of a challenge or 'threat'.

Engagement by professionals is a difficult issue
The un-welcome which articulate and professionally qualified people sometimes experience when they try to work as volunteeers for the larger community interest is very significant. Prof. Kagan suggests that if regeneration professionals are serious about accepting and supporting the role of 'community activists', they should take on this role in their 'own home and work communities'... or presumably anywhere where they feel there is - and here perhaps we get to the real underlying issue - legitimate common cause?

If my observations are anything to go by, the regeneration professionals are in for a shock if they actually follow Prof. Kagan's advice. They could find that they are vulnerable on all fronts... the 'community' wonders what they're up to, their co-professionals feel uncomfortable, and the powers-that-be actively resist their involvement.

It takes forward looking, positive and confident practitioners to accept their peers as 'volunteer' stakeholders with legitimate engagement in the regeneration and renewal process; and confident practitioners, happy and able to share, and comfortable in their skins, are sadly not exactly what's to be found in some of these programmes.

Recent Entries

Devolution, Regionalism, County Councils And Politics
Call it what you will - devolution, regionalism / decentralisation, 'the new localism', 'the trend towards 'city-regions' or whatever…
The Tesco Effect And 'Clone Town' Britain
The MPs looking at supermarket dominance have, we gather, been quite clear that the future does not bode well. Leaks…
Distinctive Economics And U.K. People Migration Between The North And South
An arfticle in this Wednesday's Business Week has business writer Bill Gleeson pondering the demise of a well-known Liverpool restaurant.…