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Regeneration destroys the big society

Nothing kills a town quite like a regeneration.

Seldom are regeneration measures designed to benefit the community and are normally the result of backdoor discussions between big business and local authority apparatchiks.

Think I’m being too harsh or conspiratorial?

The place in which I grew up, Pitsea, a small town in the east of the Basildon district of south Essex, has recently seen the approval of a £30 million scheme which will knock down an aldi supermarket, a pound shop, a fish and chip restaurant which doubles up as a entertainment house at the weekends, and the local swimming pool which has been there for as long as I can remember.

In its place will be a Morrisons supermarket and a large car park. This will accompany the large Tesco superstore 10 minutes away – which when it was first built was the largest in Europe – with its large car park and 24-hour opening times.

The area has a Lidl and various small chains – it is very well served by shops already, but not a swimming pool, for which a train or bus journey is needed to Basildon, that is until it is used during the Olympics when I gather it will be near-impossible to use.

Opposing the regeneration measures were 1,600 signatories – but they were ignored. For perspective, in this country if an e-petition receives 100,000 signatures a Commons debate is guaranteed. That is 100,000 inhabitants in a country of around 62,000,000. Yet, in a town with a population of around 25,000, a signature count of 1,600 is too few for consideration. Farcical.

Recently a block of luxury apartments have been built to serve weekday commuters going to London for work, who are most likely to have homes elsewhere in the country, and plans are being settled to knock down the remains of the Railway Pub which was housed in one of the few landmarks in Pitsea – a house built by Harold George Howard, a local businessman in the area operating in the early 1900s, who wanted to make Pitsea “something special”.

But today Pitsea is a design of community destruction. The social capital accrued with the swimming pool will now be lost, replaced by another supermarket. People living together in the ‘big society’ dream is under attack from building apartments with the sole intention of serving those who are never here.

No conspiracy then. While the government, rightly, wants us to participate more in our local communities and curb reliance on the state as a co-parent, under their noses regeneration measures seek only to make this harder, in working class towns like the one I was raised in.

I’m sure this is the case in other areas too, and I’d be delighted and horrified to hear such stories. But is it the case that this government will end up looking more like the enemy, than the facilitator, of the big society?

3 Comments

  1. It’s not really helpful to denounce ‘regeneration’ like this. What you seem to have is development, where a weak council and it’s planners work under the illusion that any development is good for the the town. This assumes that capitialism is food for us. Regeneration strategies have to be challenged. Despite Portas, it is not shops and certainly not big shops that drive regeneration. Homes, people, public spaces are a good start. Footfall and demand are good for business. Ideally, a good school in town will do the trick but try telling that to Tories, Labour, Planners. First and foremost towns are about people. That’s where regeneration should start.

  2. Mick Hall says:

    I know Pitsea well and another mass supermarket is totally wrong for the area, although I fear it is to late for the town which with the ugly flyovers and Tesco’s is an eye-saw to say the least.

    Appointing Portas to regenerate towns says it all as such people cannot get beyond Towns are solely there so people can spend what money they have.

  3. JonWilliams says:

    Government E-petitions are not guaranteed a debate even if they reach 100,000 signatures – it depends on members of the Backbench Business Committee to decide. Currently the Government has an inbuilt majority and can reject successful E-petitions!!

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