As the generally preferred mechanism for delivering regeneration, Public Private Partnerships are changing. For some time now the degree of this movement in the industry has been very apparent, but to put one’s finger on the exact nature and reasoning is more of a challenge. New players in the market, others departing, the role of the public sector shifting, a changing procurement dynamic, and an evolving relationship with impacted communities are but a few of the trends we are seeing.
Much of this, though, points towards a continued evolution in the respective role, influence and risk position that each party might adopt in a Public Private Partnership, including those outside of the contractual circle, like community and third sector stakeholders.
Economic, social and political tides are constantly impacting the process and culture of regeneration. Over the last decade the role of the public sector has increased significantly. The private sector has adapted and certainly become more cautious. Meanwhile community influence has in more recent years exerted itself considerably.
There have been seismic examples too. The abandonment of the Haringey Development Vehicle and the disaggregation at Earl’s Court are two cases where broken relationships and distrust led to complete recalibration of delivery strategies. In both, there was perception of major disenfranchisement amongst the directly affected communities. Accurate or otherwise, this perception and the scale and ferocity of campaigning surrounding these major schemes weighed heavily.
How, then, are Public Private Partnership projects or programmes changing in response?
Many clients, both public and private, are understandably nervous about taking on scale and complexity, leading to larger projects often being broken down into more manageable, viable, deliverable pieces. In some cases this might be to the benefit of communities, but for many others there is a significant risk of short-termism that may constrain placemaking or even prevent regeneration from taking place altogether.
Clearly no one-size-fits all, but a long-term vision set out in a comprehensive plan and with a clear assessment of cash flow is the starting point for successful development even when attitudes to risk are cautious.
Momentum is essential too. Quick wins are important and continuous activity in line with the overall plan, even if at a moderate level, increases confidence and encourages buy-in locally.
At the same time, we are seeing some real glimmers of light in terms of how new techniques for community participation, engagement and information sharing are leading to the empowerment of the community such that they become an enabler for regeneration. For example new technology-based platforms for sharing commercial information are now being explored by some more innovative developers, whilst some Councils are actively exploring ways to “co-produce” with affected communities the commercial and design strategies for regeneration schemes.
A simple lesson must surely be that all corners of the industry have a responsibility to reflect on past successes and failures, and to use these lessons as a basis for positively adapting models of Public Private Partnership. The consultancy cohort in particular has a responsibility; there will never and should never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Surely a key theme for the 2020s should be the gradual reframing of community stakeholders as untapped enablers to regeneration, through the employment of modern, respectful and fit-for-purpose tools and strategies of engagement.
By 2030 we might even be talking about the widespread adoption of Public Private Community Partnerships.