As many of you may know, (some of you may not) I consider the whole topic of urban regeneration, along with the multitude of subjects which that title covers, to be of absolutely vital importance. Indeed, as Patron of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, I try to take as close a personal interest in these issues in Scotland as I can, and I am delighted to see that the Federation is involved with many of the more positive developments that are taking place. Indeed, I need hardly say, therefore, how grateful I am to Scottish Homes for holding this particular conference and for bringing all of you together to discuss what more can be done.
Knowing that I was speaking after Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and Professor Duncan Maclennan - both of whom know far more about this topic than myself - I took the precaution of asking Sir James Mellon what I should talk about. "About 15 minutes before lunch" was his reply. He then, I am pleased to say, became more helpful and asked if I would explain why the subject of urban regeneration is so important to me and how I believe we could promote more action in some of the key areas.
I shall attempt to do this and, I hope, to draw attention to just how much we all still have to do. Urban regeneration is, of course, an enormous subject - it is much too big for me, I've come to the conclusion! Housing is a key part of this. Afterall, if we cannot create cities which contain houses that people actually want to live in, then all our other efforts at urban regeneration are, frankly, a waste of time.
I say this knowingly, because I do try to spend a reasonable proportion of my time visiting the difficult areas, the so-called 'problem estates', and talking to the people who live there in an effort to coordinate the activities of a wide variety of agencies and organisations from the private and public sectors. Visiting these areas - whether peripheral estates here in Scotland, or inner city housing south of the Border reveals an interesting balance sheet.
On the credit side, I am pleased to say there are a small, but increasing number of places where people really do seem to have learned from the lessons of the past and to be working together to create a more hopeful future. But, on the debit side, there are still far too many places where, after talking to people, it seems to me that little or nothing has actually improved.
It seems to me fair to say that for many people in different parts of this country, the mid and late 1980s - before we were hit by recession - were a decade of relative prosperity. But for other people, particularly those living on some of our large urban or peripheral estates, we cannot say the same. I suspect that, for many of these people, the Eighties were actually very little different to the Sixties and Seventies - condemned as they were to live in large-scale, impersonal, soulless areas of housing which both crushed the human spirit and helped to breed many of the problems with which we have become all too familiar. At times, it must have been difficult not to give up in despair.
Racial tension, crime, drug abuse, problems of health, relatively high levels of unemployment - all of us here are well aware of the litany of challenges that have to be faced on many large, urban housing estates. Of greatest concern to me, personally, is the feeling of hopelessness which is often engendered, particularly among young people. Children, it seems, were not designed to live in tower blocks. And we now know that the design of tower blocks does not, on the whole, work for children. (Although it always intrigues me that, on the continent of Europe, people seem to have adapted better to life in a block of flats than in the United Kingdom.)
Moreover, when this feeling of hopelessness, of alienation, is linked to the social problems which I have outlined, we now know that the fabric of local communities starts to be eaten away. Where young people are concerned, this was once described to me most vividly as a 'Lord of the Flies' syndrome. Where there is no conventional framework of order, together with a sense of isolation from the rest of society, young people will establish their own structures, sometimes with consequences which are every bit as frightening as those described in William Golding's novel, and certainly much more real.
The different problems all feed off each other combining, if we are not careful, to form a lethal cocktail, whose effect is a spiral of despair.
When it comes to obtaining jobs, for example, I am told that in some cities just telling certain potential employers that you come from a particular estate will sometimes be enough to tilt the balance against you. This, of course, contributes to an overall feeling of intense frustration and despair and leads to further alienation. And Sir James and I heard a lot about this earlier this year in a housing estate in Edinburgh.
Often, when I visit the parts of our towns and cities that require regeneration, I see evidence of what we might call 'sticking plaster solutions'. People have made a perfectly genuine effort to solve one part of the problem. But because they have tackled one part of the problem in isolation, they have actually failed.
For example, a few years ago, on one particular estate near Edinburgh, some houses were built which, architecturally, I would describe as rather better than normal. Yet when I saw them earlier this year, these houses now seem as run-down as the rest of the estate with graffiti-covered walls, garages full of rubbish and the faces of the people portraying their despair. On that estate, it seems as if we are back to square one again. Tackling the symptoms, rather than dealing with the cause, invariably does not work. We need to adopt a much more holistic approach.
And I seem to have heard that phrase before somewhere this morning. But really by a holistic approach I think, and I don't know whether Professor Maclennan agrees with me, but it seems to me what we are really talking about is a more integrated approach generally, an approach that gets away with as much as possible from what has really become the conventional attitudes which have given rise to zoning of everything, but it seems to me that we need to rediscover perhaps some of the more traditional approaches.
Many of you will, no doubt, be familiar with the report by David Page published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this spring. Although concerned primarily with new estates built by housing associations in England, its conclusions deserve a much wider audience. Although the report highlights some achievements, it is extremely worrying that a significant number of developers seem to be repeating the mistakes of the past, particularly those housing associations which are becoming involved with the management of large estates for the first time.
Believe it or not, I spoke to one of our more enlightened architects not very long ago. He said he applied two simple rules to any housing in a town or city. Firstly, the rule of 'Would I want to live there myself?' (a very good rule, I think) and secondly, the rule of 'Can I reach key amenities and, if possible, the place where I work, within a short walk from home?'. On both these counts, too much of our housing fails, including, I am sorry to say, much of that built during the last 20 years.
Indeed, I was fascinated to hear of one northern city where the number of empty houses - 4,000 in this case - matches exactly the number of people seeking a home. In theory, there should be no housing problem at all. In reality, of course, the 4,000 homes are in such a state that no one actually wants them. Sadly, this example is not untypical. In some places we have become very successful in building houses no one wants to live in.
I would add a further architectural rule of my own, if I may. In too many places we have lost sight of the fine local and regional building traditions which exist. We need to regain our understanding of the vernacular in architecture.
For example, here in Scotland, many more people are at last realising the value of the tenement. Not only is there a fine tradition of tenement design - 'Greek' Thompson, you may recall, built many tenements - but a well-designed tenement could, perhaps, solve many of our current problems. It is possible to achieve different uses within a tenement block; to achieve a mix of residents - young and old, single people and families, employed and unemployed; moreover, and by no means least, tenements are usually very energy efficient.
We are also starting to rediscover the art of rehabilitating run-down housing and streets of old buildings, rather than always feeling that we must knock them down or only build on greenfield sites.
Rehabilitation is a phrase which used to be applied in hardline communist countries where a politician whose views were considered beyond the pale suddenly found himself back in the mainstream again. The problem is that for most politicians the good news came too late - they had either died or been 'liquidated' about 20 years earlier.
It is already too late for some buildings but luckily for us, many are still there to be rehabilitated. Old buildings are often focal points for the local community and not only is it good common sense to try and breathe new life into them, but it also makes good ecological sense and, because the infrastructure is already there, it is good value for money as well. I know there are many problems associated with this approach but I still think they are problems which can be overcome with imagination and effort.
I am looking forward to seeing one such rehabilitation project in Glasgow this afternoon when I visit the converted Sandy Road Fire Station building, now owned by the Meadowside and Thornwood Housing Association. I am delighted that we have begun to realise how much potential our old buildings have, but I do feel bound to say that there is a long way to go yet!
As we now know, architects and planners cannot solve the problems alone. In my experience, any approach to the problems of urban regeneration which is not based on community participation - a participation which empowers the community - is doomed, on the whole, to failure. I admit this is not an easy process and it requires definite, imaginative skills on the part of those proposing particular developments. It means helping to shift the balance of decisions from the developer and the planner towards those who live and work in a particular place. But if this does not happen we will, as we know particularly well from our experience here in Scotland, just end up by replacing one kind of comprehensive redevelopment with another - and, frankly, not one of any greater value.
The Government's new Consultative Paper also recognises this vital point about involving local communities at an early stage as the key part of partnerships.
Too often, it seems to me, certain individuals or national or regional bodies of one sort or another have tried to impose solutions on communities - at best alienating people and, at worst, ending up with pretty disastrous consequences.
In truth, not only will the answers vary from place to place, but the fact of the matter is that different places are often trying to answer very different questions in the first place. Superficial similarities often hide profound differences, and consultation and involvement at a local level are absolutely crucial.
The places I see where great progress has been made all have in common men and women of vision at their heart. People with the vision to drive things forward. At times that vision has meant attempting tasks which seemed to be impossible - virtually taking a leap of faith. But different groups each, perhaps from their own different perspective, do want to help solve the problems and when they are brought together, it is amazing what can be achieved.
At times, a holistic, visionary approach can involve taking great risks. (I guarantee that your accountants will start to get cold feet!) Yet so many of our great achievements in this country have been as a result of people being prepared to take a risk. What we need are more people prepared to work together and take a risk on behalf of their own town or city - community entrepreneurs if you like. Moreover, the success stories which I hear about - and there are a small, but increasing number - all have a common thread running through them. A partnership approach to problem solving.
In many people's experience, direct intervention by Government rarely provides a complete solution. Nor can local authorities on their own produce the resources and the expertise for the regeneration of whole communities. But I have found that putting both together and stirring in a contribution from the private sector, based not on philanthropy but on long-term self-interest in the creation of thriving, confident and stable communities, together with the local expertise provided by voluntary organisations and community leaders, can produce a remarkably potent mixture.
It was heartening to see that Lord Douglas-Hamilton endorsed this approach earlier this morning. Indeed, the recent Consultative Paper showed how a Partnership Approach has started to make a difference in deprived areas in four Scottish cities.
May I also add a purely personal observation, which is how good it is to see the Consultative Paper recognising success. Too many of the community entrepreneurs that I know feel they meet nothing but resistance from officialdom - probably partly because officials feel their own territorial integrity is being exposed. But, thank goodness the Scottish Office seems to be ending this pattern and starting to give true credit where it is due.
I am delighted to say things are not only happening in Scotland, but also in other parts of the United Kingdom and in some of the most unlikely locations. In Halifax, Blackburn, certain estates in London, parts of Birmingham, in the valleys of South Wales, and even in Northern Ireland - people are coming together in partnership under the leadership of community entrepreneurs, determined to put the soul back into their local society and create a future for the community.
I never cease to be amazed by just how much can be achieved by groups of people when they work together with a clear aim in sight, when they are able to create the right balance of means and motivation and when they are given the professional assistance of groups of community architects who know how to conduct the process of consultation and have valuable experience in putting together partnerships of the crucial people and the crucial agencies. These communities are also anxious to share their experience - so the rest of us can imitate their good practice.
Glasgow itself provides an increasing number of examples of where a new and much needed attempt is being made to address housing, education, environmental and economic issues in an integrated and planned manner. Crown Street is just such an example, which we were able to highlight in my Report on Urban Villages which was published last year.
There are other partnership initiatives as well. I was delighted to learn of the new 'Glasgow Fund' to be launched in a month's time which will bring together private and public money to develop sustainable partnerships to promote regeneration in disadvantaged areas. The Development Agency, the City and Regional Councils, the private sector supporters - Body Shop - as well as Scottish Homes who are also involved, clearly see there is going to be a real mutuality of benefit by getting something started. My only question is, why just in Glasgow? I am sure other cities could benefit from a similar approach.
So the task is not impossible. As was made clear in my Urban Villages Report, when we look at the qualities which constitute an Urban Village - or what in Europe is known as an urban quarter - it does become apparent that it is possible to devise an urban environment in such a way as to enhance the community which we find there and which instinctively seems to strike a chord in our hearts.
At the same time, we need to remove the remaining petty restrictions which sometimes make the realisation of such places very difficult. For example, our community entrepreneurs need nurturing, not restraining. At times, this may involve adopting a more flexible approach to some of the rules.
Let me summarise by laying down what I see as the key challenges for Scottish Homes and your key partners such as local authorities, local enterprise companies and local communities.
It is criticial, it seems to me, that the regeneration of local communities remains your key aim. I hope I have shown how crucial housing is to this because so many of the other areas we need to tackle have their roots in inadequate or inappropriate housing. The design of the built environment is probably the most important element in creating a sense of community.
The approach and the solutions have to be holistic and, in particular, the community itself has to be involved in the process. I am particularly pleased that Scottish Homes subscribes to the idea of community planning. I hope that this idea will be taken up by the authorities throughout Scotland and that they will consult those enlightened architects who have valuable expertise in this field. And I could even give you a list of them if you are interested!
Some of you may know, perhaps, that I am President of Business in the Community, an organisation which acts as a catalyst for bringing the private and public sectors together in order to achieve worthwhile results in the community. At the moment, Business in the Community is undertaking a study into the impact of changing global patterns of work on our society. The pace of change is frightening, I do not need to tell you, and the impact on some already deprived communities may be devastating, unless we face up to the challenges that exist.
A conference like this helps to focus attention on urban regeneration. I hope it also helps to move the issue much higher up our list of national priorities. This is not an appeal for more money - rather that we should all take responsibility for the problem and recognise the part we can all play in making things better. Local people, communities, business, architects, housing officials and politicians all have an important role. I am trying to play my own small part both through my Trusts' active involvement in many inner city areas, and now through my Institute of Architecture as well.
We also need to keep in mind our own vision. We should no longer be in the business of building houses or estates, but of building communities. Of course, putting in place all the things that create a community does cost more - initially. But I do believe that working in partnership to build true communities within our towns and cities is - to use today's jargon - much better value for money in the long-term than any of the alternatives.
Mr Chairman, I am heartened that this conference seems to be looking at solutions and not just analysing problems. I wish all of you every success and hope that you leave here enthused by the kind of examples of best practice which you may have learned about so that you can return to your local communities to work in partnership with others to produce the most effective and imaginative results. I can only say that I hope, through Scottish Homes, to keep in touch with your progress."