The first week of September still has that back-to-school feel, even though it’s more than twenty years since I had any personal experience. It has at least been back to business this week with meetings with the housing minister and both shadow housing ministers. The word that seems to be on the tip of all of their tongues is localism, although strangely none actually dare utter it.
Type Localism into Google news and it will helpfully flash up a timeline chart showing the occurrence of the word over the last 130 years. Remarkably it was common parlance in the 1880s in New Zealand, but fell away for more than a centaury to suddenly spring back into use in the middle of this decade.
Localism, at its simplest, means political control at the lowest local level. This week Grant Shapps articulated how this concept would work for housing under a Conservative government. Those who had thought localism meant giving power back to councils were in for a shock. He meant more local than that. Indeed the phrase he used was “street level regeneration”
No doubt there will be different ideas of what that means. But this week I have visited a remarkable example in East London. Phoenix housing cooperative have taken on four flats that had effectively been abandoned by their housing association owner. Deemed too expensive to renovate they had been left empty for years. Using a team of local volunteers made up of unemployed and homeless young people supervised and trained by an experienced site manager, Phoenix have managed to get the flats back up to standard at a fifth of the price estimated by the housing association. In a couple of weeks they will become homes again to local people otherwise priced out of the housing market. It’s one remarkable little example, but this is street level regeneration, and if this is localism in action I’m all in favour.