As we look to build back better from the effects of the global pandemic, many Local Authorities find themselves in the unenviable position of having to balance the provision of core services whilst delivering the essential housing, facilities and infrastructure that can secure growth and recovery for their towns and cities.
Regeneration schemes need to be implemented as part of a holistic approach, taking into account both social and economic needs. Assembling the right ingredients for these schemes presents a layer of complexity that can be difficult for either public or private organisations to resolve alone. By pooling together the powers, resources, management skills and technical know-how of both sectors, public-private partnerships offer the potential for a genuine focus on local priorities, especially in terms of the end users.
In some cases, longer term partnerships can enable broader measures for successful regeneration to take place as seen in the case of the large-scale and visionary involvement of Argent within the Kings Cross Development. Smaller regional initiatives can also benefit greatly from such long-term partnerships if structured properly.
Arguably, the need for essential housing, facilities and infrastructure is even more pressing in smaller towns and communities if we are to deliver on the ‘levelling up’ agenda. However, Local Authorities in these regions have often not built facilities and infrastructure for decades and will lack teams with enough experience or technical resource to deliver complex regeneration schemes.
As I argued in my previous piece, ‘Regeneration: Perspective and Vision’, this presents opportunities for the private sector to step in and work collaboratively with the public sector, using our expertise and knowledge to deliver quality and successful projects, with placemaking at their heart. That same knowledge could also be used to identify opportunities within the public estate and increase the volume of Local Authority sites being brought forward.
We know that collaborative working can be successful, as our work with Local Authorities on the Government’s Towns Fund initiative has proven. The Towns Fund requires councils to work collaboratively with the private sector and Urban Edge has been involved in drafting up a number of ambitious proposals with Local Authorities, in particular working in close collaboration with Boston District Council where we have been given the opportunity to implement some of our regeneration ideas in line with the council’s forward-thinking vision on a number of strategic sites within the town centre.
However, as we have experienced on projects elsewhere, public-private partnerships can be complex and challenging, even for seemingly simple initiatives. Early engagement and preparation, insight and management are therefore key to successfully bring together the resources, expertise and powers of both sectors.
A structured and carefully controlled process needs to be put in place for these partnerships to be able to succeed and we would make the following core recommendations:
Set the vision from the outset
A robust vision will allow for the long-term relationship to endure through any economic and political changes that may occur over the course of the project. Early engagement with an experienced design team allows for the exploration of ideas and options available. This can ensure unviable options are eliminated from the outset and will avoid costly delays further down the line. On a number of occasions, we have found that, having undertaken initial feasibility studies, we have been able use our skill and experience to unlock sites which were previously deemed undevelopable thus opening up new avenues and opportunities for the Local Authority to explore. In turn, this can allow for early engagement with relevant stakeholders and help avoid potential parcel price uplifts or ransom strips.
Create a comprehensive brief
The crucial elements and boundaries of projects should be fixed from the outset. However, it is our view that an element of flexibility needs to be built into the overarching concept to allow for immediate solutions further in the process should, for example, the socio-economic landscape change or unforeseen opportunities arise such as technological advances. As architects and masterplanners, we have always allowed for and built in an element of flexibility within our proposals, both spatially and functionally in relation to the programme.
Set out the contractual type of any partnership options available
There is no fixed option available and each project will have its own specific requirements and complications, whether the partnership is contractual, corporate, investment or collaborative. As such, each variety of structure needs to be investigated and considered with thorough analysis of the pros and cons of each option.
Undertake studies on the timing and viability of the proposals
The project’s route to market needs to be tested. A series of more detailed and developed options of the proposals will be created by the Design and Management Team in the form of feasibility studies and costings which will allow for a soft market test. This will give the Local Authority, and partnership as a whole, the confidence to commit and move forward. This stage is also important for non-binding dialogue, which will shape the proposals and allow for certain elements to be reconsidered and reevaluated before a formal appointment process begins. This in turn will successfully shape the partnership and ensure fundability.
Make a meaningful start
Making a strong start is important and will set the template for success and pace of delivery. We would suggest agreeing and committing to a ‘first 100 days plan’, setting out a detailed work programme for all parties involved and defining their roles within it.
Management of the partnership whilst works are progressing
Maintaining the momentum set in the initial stages of the project can often be the most challenging aspect of public-private partnerships. However, agreeing to and setting out a series of actions such as a continuous review and revision of KPIs and targets, as well as lessons learned, will help keep the project on track and allow for better outcomes.
Commit to and see the process through to the end
Develop a Continuity and Communications Plan explaining the end of the partnership to ensure that there are no disruptions to services or benefits to the public or other key stakeholders.
A version of this article previously appeared in LocalGov in July 2022.