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Emerging Issues in the Bellenden Renewal
BELLENDEN RENEWAL SCRUTINY – some emerging issues

Following the two Scrutiny meetings so far, the BRG have been reflecting on the issues which are emerging, and have some thoughts to share with the Committee. A need for further information has been identified on a number of aspects, and some of these are indicated in the attached summary. In terms of community aspects specifically, the Committee may find it helpful to consider the following.

The Bellenden Renewal Scheme originated in the mid 90s when the national focus was shifting to include economic and social factors alongside physical regeneration. In its early years, the Scheme took advantage of new ways of involving the community in generating ideas, but it subsequently missed opportunities to build on this to develop sustainable community infrastructure and processes. Residents took action to fill this gap, and set up the Bellenden Residents’ Group (BRG).

Need for Guidance: Many of the comments made about community relations in the Peckham Partnership Scrutiny Report in 2001 have a familiar ring in the light of the Bellenden experience. It is not clear what has happened to the recommendations of that Scrutiny, and the report does not seem to have influenced the Bellenden Renewal Scheme in their handling of community relations. The experiences in the Peckham Partnership Project, and the PVSF evidence, add weight to the proposal that it is now timely to develop guidance to council officers, voluntary and community groups, and others involved, on the way to integrate effectively the community, economic and physical aspects of renewal and regeneration schemes.

Compact Code: As the SAVO evidence pointed out the Compact process, which is now established for agreements between the Council and the voluntary and community sectors, is well suited to produce such guidance. Two Codes which are to be produced in the framework – Consultation, Involvement and Participation, and Community Groups – are especially relevant. The work would draw on the experiences of voluntary and community groups and residents from a number of regeneration and renewal schemes, to develop the guidance. It would link with and complement the borough’s implementation of Government policies on community involvement through support for Active Citizens, and for community-led problem solving through the Civic Pioneer programme.

Active Citizenship: A recently established project led by Volunteers in Action (VIAs), in partnership with SAVO, Police, and the Council’s CIDU, is focusing on the development of support infrastructure for active citizens. Residents who have taken part in developing the BRG and its community network are an example of active citizens, but there is as yet no infrastructure to support this kind of work. The community network has been instrumental in developing new ways of resident involvement with the Peckham Programme on some town centre issues. This is an example of pioneering new forms of active citizens’ engagement in community-council problem solving. These kinds of developments, along with others, are important contributions to the council’s participation in the Government’s Civic Pioneer programme.

The Scrutiny Committee could recommend that work on the relevant Compact Codes be initiated by SAVO and the Council as soon as possible and take fully into account the need to integrate community and economic aspects into regeneration and renewal schemes, linking this with other relevant initiatives in community development and active citizenship.

The Renewal Scheme has two years left, and an exit strategy is needed. This will need to cover a variety of elements of the work. On community aspects the issues to cater for include:

* Community liaison for outstanding cases: a number of cases have caused suffering for the individuals concerned, and we need to see if they can be better handled. One of the difficulties has been that such details can get overlooked, or escalate into disputes, if officers have too much to do and yet are the only ones able to deal with the details of the cases. One possibility is to create an independent intermediary located in the community to be the first reference point for any residents or traders with remaining issues. This intermediary could then with appropriate agreement act as the advocate and representative for the individuals concerned, creating a more streamlined process for the officers to deal with. Such a person could be located in one of the Peckham voluntary or community centres, and also explore if mediation has any role to play in some of the cases.

The Scrutiny Committee could recommend that the Renewal Team discuss with the ward councillors and the BRG the details of setting up such a process as soon as possible.

* Community Development support in Lane West: the Renewal Team has not developed a working relationship with the BRG. This has meant that the community development that the BRG has initiated with its community network and its successful engagement with town centre and other issues has been disconnected from the Renewal work. The Exit Strategy gives an opportunity to correct this. The Peckham Programme (PP) also needs to be involved as the BRG is successfully working with them on town centre issues, and the Renewal Team have said that they are working with the PP on community aspects. We need to bring all this together.

The Scrutiny Committee could recommend that the Renewal Team and the Peckham Programme discuss with the BRG the ways they can support it in its community development work.

Working Together: Successful discussions would help to ensure that the Renewal Scheme Exit Strategy is soundly based, and the community development aspects rooted in the community. As we said in the presentation at the 7th December meeting, we are going to be living and trading here in Bellenden long after the Renewal Team leaves the area, and we hope therefore that we can be fully involved in the development of the Renewal Scheme’s exit strategy and that we are adequately supported as active citizens to do this. A joint Exit Strategy working group might be useful.

The Scrutiny Committee could recommend that the Renewal Team fully involve the BRG, as well as others, in the development of the Exit Strategy.

Eileen Conn
BRG coordinator
pp BRG
19 January 2005

Further Information Summary attached

Attachment to BRG paper to Housing Scrutiny Sub-Committee on
‘Bellenden Renewal Scrutiny - emerging issues’.

A number of matters have emerged as needing further information. All of these are now subject to the new Information Act, and therefore available publicly on request. They include in summary:

* the Advisory Board – selection of its members, its operations, and its ending;

* expenditure – allocation of public expenditure to different categories of work;

* staffing & management arrangements, levels, and costs, including consultancies;

* contracting arrangements – the new arrangements for the contractors, and how these address the problems of work quality and communications;

* cases outstanding – statistics on the number of cases in formal and informal dispute, now and in the past;

* Awards – criteria, evidence used, and how assessed;

* newsletters – the Council’s policy on requiring glossy publications thus restricting the ability to issue simple informative community newsletters.

The Committee may find some of this information useful in its own deliberations to increase understanding of the way the Scheme operated, and to identify matters to explore further. Providing this information will also increase transparency and public accountability. We will be glad to expand further on any of these details as needed.

BRG 19 January 2005