The recession has finally put paid to hopes for a major regeneration project in Roehampton.
The scheme had been in development for a number of years and went through seemingly endless consultations with local residents, mixed feelings from the Labour Party (who couldn’t work out if they want to improve people’s quality of life or not) and an extensive period of work preparing for a planning application.
The plan would have seen improved social housing, a landscaped and usable ‘village green’ and overall lower building heights. Most important was the creation of employment in the area through the improvement of business units and provision of a supermarket.
Roehampton suffers a much higher rate of unemployment than the rest of the borough (in September the rate of JSA claims was 4.4% in Roehampton, against 3.2% in the borough as a whole). The picture is much worse when considering working age benefits; nearly one-in-five Roehampton residents are claiming a benefit (19.4%), almost twice the rate of the borough as a whole (10.9%).
But while supermarkets were keen – only Asda didn’t express an interest because of the proximity of an existing store – funding the overall regeneration has been looking less and less unlikely.
While Gordon Brown was promising we were well-placed to weather the recession we’ve suffered more than many comparable countries. And while he said we would be coming out of recession quickly our economy is still shrinking while other nations are back in growth.
We’ve just seen the sixth-successive quarter of decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and while the overall situation may be improving this isn’t the case for every industry – construction has been hit far harder than most. In the 18 months we’ve been in recession the overall drop in GDP has been 6.9%. In the construction sector that drop has been 15.6%.
So while the news in Nine Elms has been optimistic – fuelled by the location, investment by the US Embassy and relative ease with which the area can be developed – Roehampton, unfortunately, has none of those advantages and that, along with the high proportion of social housing included, meant that to interest a developer the council would have had to subsidise the scheme to a level that it just cannot afford.
Rather than have a scheme on ice waiting for a lengthy recovery to help we are now going to have to concentrate on the other elements of help we are providing Roehampton, like support for local businesses and targeted help to get people back in work. But it is frustrating to have got to this stage to see the plans be killed by factors outside of the council’s control.