Benlowndes

a perspective on PR in social housing and regeneration

Talking about our devolution: what people told us about the deal

With all that’s happened since June, it’s easy to forget that there’s a big decision ahead about how the West of England runs its affairs.

The devolution deal for ‘greater Bristol’ won’t set most people’s pulses racing. But ask those who live and work here what’s important to them and many will say housing, transport, education, jobs or a combination of the above. As it happens, the West of England’s deal is geared towards addressing all of these issues.

On the table is £1bn to invest over 30 years in housing, transport and skills. Post #EUref, when ‘taking back control’ swayed views about our country’s future, handing responsibility for these issues to local areas seems an obvious step.

It’s probably worth five minutes’ of everyone’s time in the scheme of things.

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#Togetherstronger: more than a marketing slogan

After the chaos of Brexit and divisive tone of much of the reaction to the vote, there’s nothing like sport to bring people back together.

And what a rollercoaster of a week it’s been. As a remain supporter and proud Welshman, I was disappointed that so many people in Wales voted to leave the EU.

The prevailing, and sometimes lazy, narrative that has emerged since is one of a nation divided.

Then Friday night happened…

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Can Marvin crack Bristol’s housing crisis?

When they finally arrived, Bristol’s election results signalled a big change for the city that made the national news.

Despite predictions that the mayoral contest was too close to call, voters gave an emphatic victory to Labour’s Marvin Rees. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saw fit to travel to Bristol to congratulate his new mayor.

As I live outside Bristol, I didn’t vote in the mayoral elections. But I followed the contest with interest and was not surprised by Labour’s win after a drawn-out and sometimes tetchy contest.

On many measures, Rees inherits a city in better shape than in 2012 when independent George Ferguson became Bristol’s first elected mayor. It weathered the recession well and has the most productive economy outside London. Its Enterprise Zone in Bristol Temple Quarter is creating more jobs than any similar local scheme. And the arena project is becoming a reality, more than 20 years after it was first mooted.

These achievements should be recognised as a testament to Ferguson’s leadership, although many of his trenchant critics won’t see it that way.

But there are big challenges that Rees must address amongst the many pledges he made during the campaign.

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Bristol Arena: now the hard work really starts

Councillors’ approval of Bristol’s flagship arena project is a welcome twist in a story that goes back two decades.

Bringing a big city arena to Bristol has been a long-standing cultural ambition. A huge collective effort has been put into getting the vision for a gleaming 12,000-capacity venue and a redeveloped cultural and residential quarter beside Temple Meads to this stage.

The former Diesel Depot site which will host the facility has lain largely fallow for years since it earned its name for engine goods storage.  And there are many good reasons for the seemingly slow progress.

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Devolution deal or no deal?

“This [deal] puts us in the Premiership in terms of major city regions in the UK. It’s going to be good for the whole population in terms of jobs, housing and transport.

“It also addresses some of the issues such as poverty, fairness and equality.”

Bristol’s elected mayor George Ferguson, 16 March 2016

A conversation about how the West of England can take control of its destiny may be starting to happen. And not before time…

After years of discussions, a devolution deal with Government promises to give the area’s local authorities more power over important issues like housing, transport, planning and skills. If ratified, it would unlock £1bn for local growth projects and provide councils with clout to make a bigger difference in these areas.

But there’s a sticking point for some that could derail the deal before it gets going. The government wants to see a ‘metro mayor’, who would chair a combined authority to oversee a joined-up response to the way these major matters are managed. Given the level of concern about this, it’s not certain that all councils will sign off on the deal.

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Owning our future: why dropping jargon matters

My blog on jargon in UK housing generated a great response and was my most popular post of last year.

I’ve not had time until recently to follow through on my promise to turn the feedback into an online resource. Today’s Twitter discussions about the importance of having a shared narrative and housing ‘owning our future’ (or #OOF) makes this a timely post.

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Why housing must get its story straight

“Every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you can’t spend on building houses.”

David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions, 10 February

Sound bites can be a useful way to convey a simple, memorable point.

Used well, they can conjure powerful, evocative messages that people remember. Politicians love them and use them to distill grand and complex plans into a key point.

Problem is they often miss the fundamental, complex realities that are an essential part of the story. When that happens, people are more likely to misunderstand the issue at hand.

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How social can fuel great local conversations

“The profession is polarising between those practitioners that are cracking on and using new forms of media to engage publics in two-way dialogue and those that continue to spam journalists with press releases.

“The former have a great future in the business. The latter will be out of job within a generation.”

Stephen Waddington (@wadds) on the future of PR

After thousands of discussions, the West of England’s #WEbuildourfuture consultation ended yesterday (Friday 29 January).

This was an important and challenging conversation about housing and transport for the area’s four local authorities. Where 85,000 new homes should go and how transport should work are complex and thorny issues, with many differing and competing opinions. The last three months have seen the councils engage in genuine and thought-provoking exchanges. I hope it demonstrates the good practice Steven Waddington refers to in his quote above.

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Transport campaign toasts success

I was really pleased to see the West of England named today as one of a handful of areas to benefit from government funding to encourage increased use of electric cars on our streets.

Colleagues were among this morning’s gathering to welcome Transport Minister Andrew Jones’ announcement of £7.5m to fund more local charging points.

It was especially satisfying because we supported this bid with an excellent campaign which demonstrated strong public appetite in the West of England for government investment in infrastructure for plug-in cars.

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No predictions, just 3 hopes for 2016

If you’ve read any posts, columns and opinions about 2015, it would be easy to think that last year was a bad one.

People of Columnia have a negative tendency, but it seems that there’s plenty to trouble us. Terrorism, austerity, economic under-performance, migration, Europe and runaway house prices all point to a bad year.

I’ve also had many conversations about ‘leadership failure’ over many of these issues. It seems that people have had enough of being soft-soaped. This was demonstrated in Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary victory over the ‘Westminster elite’ in the Labour leadership campaign. It was also expressed in nastier ways through trolling and threats dealt out on social media.

Opinion formers have an appetite for predictions at this time of year. After so many people called the big events wrong in 2015, it’s daft to attempt it for the coming year.

I want to be optimistic and set out some hopes for 2016. Some relate to national issues, others are more local and there’s a personal one too. All are important to me and, if they happen, it should be a good year.

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