Overlooking the role of regional development agencies risks damaging vital regeneration projects at a time when it is needed most, a Birmingham academic has warned.
Regeneration has been back in the spotlight after the company working on key projects in Sandwell had its funding withdrawn by local bodies.
RegenCo, which was set up in 2003 as a joint venture between Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, the National Regeneration Agency Homes & Communities Agency and Advantage West Midlands, worked on projects such as the borough’s £77 million college campus and a £75 million revamp of West Bromwich town centre.
Its future now looks to be in peril after Sandwell Council joined the other two founders in pulling funding from next year. The council said it was looking at other ways to spend the £300,000 budgeted for RegenCo and hinted that funding regeneration projects directly, rather than through a joint partnership, might be an option.
AWM itself had to cut back significantly on regeneration spending when its budget dropped because of Government cutbacks and the effects of the recession. It is believed that an incoming Conservative government would further reduce the power of regional development agencies.
But Dr Mike Beazley, senior lecturer at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at Birmingham University, said the two-level approach to regeneration was best, with input at both local and regional levels.
He said: “I think there needs to be an element of both. Local authorities have a good understanding of the areas involved, but you do need a more regional basis to link it all up.
“Regional Development Agencies do perform a very useful role strategically, and certainly the influx of resources coming through them has always been useful, so any reduction is going to be bad. I think the regeneration cuts are a bit of a worry.
“The need for regeneration never goes away and the loss of any resources can create a problem.
“You have also got a dilemma in that, in recessionary times, the need for regeneration becomes more important. It’s a bit of a Catch 22.”
Sandwell was the last of the three original organisations to pull out of RegenCo funding.
Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and transport, Coun Bob Badham said: “We are still continuing to fund RegenCo until 2010.
“Any money we save will be considered in the normal fashion through our budget strategy for 2010/11.”
He said regeneration would continue in the area, adding: “At the end of March 2010, we will not continue funding. We will press ahead with the regeneration of the area.
“Our task now is to forge ahead with the vision and see it through to completion as, hopefully, economic conditions improve and developers are attracted to the town centre and other opportunities it offers.”