Thursday, 10 December 2009

Regeneration or Pie in the Sky?

Ever since I moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1995 there has been one word on the lips of local bigwigs: regeneration. But 14 years on it has proceeded at snail's pace. Since the pits closed and pot making was outsourced to China, for many Potters the recession of the early 1980s never ended. Therefore regeneration in terms of prime-pumping the city's economic base and providing thousands of jobs is much-needed. From this perspective yesterday's announcement that a £275million shopping development (pictured) will finally get built in the officially renamed 'Stoke-on-Trent city centre' sounds like a reason to be cheerful.

The council's press release says:
A development agreement for a £275 million regional shopping centre in Stoke-on-Trent city centre has been given the go ahead.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s cabinet today approved the contract with developer Realis Estates.

Under the terms of the agreement, Realis Estates will take forward the development of a new department store, a wide range of new shops, caf├ęs, restaurants, vibrant public spaces, a multi-screen cinema, an hotel and improved parking.

Realis Estates and the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership (NSRP) will also establish a joint venture arrangement to build a modern bus station and will work together to build the main shopping centre development. The current bus station stands on the East West Centre redevelopment site

...

Designed by internationally renowned architects Benoy, the redeveloped East West Centre will provide 75,000 square metres of floor space, revitalise Stoke-on-Trent city centre and tempt shoppers back from cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. It is forecast that the new development will create thousands of new jobs as well as providing a significant and sustained boost to the local economy.

Realis Estates and Stoke-on-Trent City Council will now work together to assemble all the land needed for the shopping centre. This is likely to include the use of compulsory purchase orders. Realis Estates will also seek detailed planning permission and continue to identify potential tenants. Realis Estates anticipates the redeveloped centre will open in late 2014.
Woohoo! The good times are coming back! Or are they? I can't help being sceptical of the economic claims being made by the project's backers. First though, let me lay my cards on the table. Stoke might be a dreary and depressing place but it is a city I've grown to love, and obviously I hope regeneration projects manage to improve the city's lot. But hope is no substitute for seeing things as they are and once you remove the rose-tinted regeneration spectacles it seems the development is guided by a dollop of wishful thinking.

The big problem is this. When Hanley (for outsiders, the city centre) already has one shopping complex with empty stores, and there are closed shops dotted about how can the city sustain a new shopping development? In the absence of the large manufacturing base that gave the Potteries its name, where are Stokies going to get the money to spend in the new place? New low paid jobs in the cafes of the development will not sustain the new low paid jobs in the clothes shops, and vice versa. There will be no closed virtuous circuit that will fuel economic growth.

Then there's an unintended side effect of regeneration. The new development will pull shops from the existing Potteries Centre and the High Street to the prestige build. It is regeneration that will prettify one end of town at the expense of another. Why would Next and Disney and Lush stay in a functional but 20 year old shopping centre when the fancy one down the way is offering them attractive introductory rents?

Have these issues been addressed? If so they haven't been done so publicly. At a trades council meeting earlier in the year this was put to the then Labour group leader. Let's say the answer was far from reassuring. It looks very much like "build it and they will come" from where I'm sitting.

13 comments:

Phil said...

"Stoke-on-Trent city centre"? Where's that then?

The fact that Stoke-on-Trent is made up of Stoke and four other towns strikes me as one of the really distinctive aspects of the place, and you'd think developers would want to build on that - not just build over it.

Andrew Conroy said...

The existing shopping centre's turnover of outlets is so high that it beggar's belief that retail is still regarded by local government as the key to regenerating the area.

SamG said...

I keep hearing about this high skilled economy and everytime I switch on the news it's KFC have created another 9000 jobs or a new shopping mall is opening!

What a depressing future!

Brother S said...

Phil (first comment), I think it is five other towns unless you believe Arnold Bennett.

Arthur Bough said...

Brother S pinched my first comment, and he could have added lots of villages. I'm no fan of huge retail developments in Town Centres - partly because I hate Cities - and certainly not as a means of development - though their function during the Long Wave downturn of the 80's and 90's should not be ignored in creating employment, even low paid employment.

I heard an interesting fact the other day from the head of Hyundai in Britain. In response to the point that the scrappage scheme had benefitted foreign workers - Hyundai has sold more cars under it than anyone else - he replied that, in fact Hyundai employ more people in car showrooms than they do in making the cars!

I think some of the comments are too pessimistic. The major single employer in Stoke as elsewhere is the State, and many of those jobs in the NHS, The civil service etc. can hardly be described as Minimum Wage. Other developments related to that for example the Science Park and so on, do play into the idea of the creation of higher status, higher paid jobs. Clearly the current recession makes that look doubtful, but as I have written elsewhere I do not see this recession as typicaal of the overall economic conjuncture, which on the contrary is one of rapid economic global growth, and in which some of those types of high-tec jobs are ones that Britain will have to develop.

The Informer said...

The neo-Nazi EDL ahve just announced in the last five minutes they will be boosting BNP vote in Stoke by marching in the city. Other places soon to be announced are Newcastle, Preston, Southampton, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Liverpool in the next seven months, which will take them onto late summer, after the elections.

SamG said...

Higher status jobs will rely on a world class education system, even then in this system it will be a small elite.

No I think the future for most workers in Britain will be serving bargain buckets and burgers.

Global warming can't come quick enough if.

Phil BC said...

Re: the towns of Stoke, perhaps the council ought to think modelling regeneration on the Crystal Maze. Longton could be medieval, Stoke industrial and Burslem Aztec. Just a thought.

Phil BC said...

Re: the EDL's visit to Stoke, this is one particular party of tourists we'd rather not have come to see the sights. There is an emergency NorSCARF meeting on Monday night to discuss the mobilisation against it. All being well I should be going.

Phil BC said...

I agree with you on the state being Stoke's biggest employer, Boffy. The fancy new developments for the college and Staffs Uni on Leek Road will create some decent jobs, and of course are helping keeping Stoke's construction industry going. But it still seems to me that the regeneration strategy pursued here (and elsewhere) is over reliant on consumption and these jobs are - for the main part - low waged and, from the standpoint of capital, 'unproductive'.

Arthur Bough said...

Phil,

I agree that the regeneration model relies on Retail. But, remember that for a long time now the development path of Capital has been for a diminishing manufacturing sector and rising service sector, just as in the past it was for a smaller agricultural sector, and larger industrial sector. We have to be careful not to fetishise manufacturing or we become modern Physiocrats.

And, in that context, I don't agree that service sector jobs are all "unproductive". The basic Marxist criteria is does Capital exchange with Revenue or with Capital. Revenue that exchanges with revenue, and Capital that exchanges with Capital is not productive of Surplus Value, only when Capital exchanges with Revenue is Surplus Value produced.

So if I take my wages and pay you as a worker to provide me with your labour power that is an exchange of revenue and no Surplus Value is produced. If I take the same wages and pay a Capitalist to provide me with the product of your Labour Power, and he pays you only the value of your Labour-Power, then you produce a Surplus Value. If a Capitalist buys from another Capitalist, for example, a retailer, buying from a manufacturer, then no Surplus Value is produced. In fact, I've written a number of blogs on the fact that using marx's analysis consistently as set out in the Grundrisse, its impossible for Surplus Value to be produced in Department I and III, and profits arise here only because Capital shares out the total amount of profit created. This is not an argument, however, most Marxist economists make. but, as I think I've demonstrated if you do not draw that conclusion you inevitably end up with a Marginalist theory of Value.

But, that's a bit of a diversion. The fact is that what Capital is interested in is not potential profits but actual profits and that requires realisation, which requires aggregate demand. In times of long term decline its not keen for that aggregate demand to come from essentially using its stored Surplus Value to finance revue spending - Keynesianism - but in long-wave booms, it is happy to do that during crises - like now - because it can afford to lend that SV to maintain economic activity, in the expectation of renewed growth, which will pay back what it has lent with interest.

Anonymous said...

The Rowner Regeneration is run by the 9 ELITE ,plus TESCO a MARXIST
Regeneration!

paul said...

The Rowner Regeneration not needed,
COMMONHOLD instead of LEASEHOLD
LIKE all of EUROPE inc SCOTLAND
have COMMONHOLD!