Culture and Regeneration

  • By Souraya Ali

Culture has a successful history of driving place-making in the capital, playing a valuable role in the regeneration of neighbourhoods across London and contributing to local economic growth. Cultural provision can, however, also be displaced by regeneration and new developments. This briefing looks at a range of policy levers and opportunities to secure new cultural provision through regeneration and protect existing cultural infrastructure from new developments.


Cultural investment in the regeneration and reanimation of places such as the South Bank, Shoreditch, Peckham, Deptford and Brixton Market has proven the role that culture can play in inspiring communities and creating distinctive, welcoming places to live, work and visit.

New cultural developments are emerging across the city, from Nine Elms to King’s Cross and from Ealing to Barking. But without careful planning, cultural provision can also be displaced by new developments, and be put at risk from increasing pressures on land use, spiralling rents, and tensions with the needs of new residential communities.

Local authorities are key agents of regeneration and also play an important role in supporting arts and culture across the capital. Given their additional roles as planning and licensing authorities, they have a range of policy levers available to embed culture in regeneration. The £20 million of capital funding currently available through the new round of the Mayor’s London Regeneration Fund provides an opportunity for boroughs to think strategically about the role of culture in regeneration and how it can help to build successful, dynamic places, and deliver jobs and growth.


There is a growing body of international evidence that arts and culture help to make communities healthier, happier, more cohesive and more prosperous1. For example a study of 99 cultural districts in cities across the US, found that concentrations of cultural activities and institutions boost incomes, employment, turnover and property values in the vicinity2, while another found that neighbourhoods with concentrations of cultural assets experienced higher levels of growth in affluence and desirability than those without3.

Arts and culture help local economies to grow by creating vibrant and distinctive places, which draw in visitors, and attract and retain businesses. Increased spending by visitors to cultural events and attractions, by the staff of arts and cultural organisations, and by the organisations themselves on their supply chains, is amplified through multiplier effects4. Jobs are created and business turnover grows. Such impacts are evident in London where cultural tourism generates £3.2 billion a year for London’s economy, supporting 80,000 jobs5, and where the capital’s vibrant cultural offer feeds the city’s creative industries, which account for one in six of London’s jobs.

In addition to the economic benefits they bring, arts and culture also increase the liveability of local areas, strengthening people’s connections with the places they inhabit, and the sense of wellbeing that they derive from them. This is also evident in London. Sixty per cent of Londoners cite arts and culture as the best thing about living in the capital, and those who take part in cultural activities are more likely to be satisfied with their local areas6

Recognising the value of culture in place-making, local authorities across London have been embedding culture in their regeneration schemes. This has resulted in a range of new provision and cultural activity, from the outdoor performance space at Bell Square in Hounslow, to public art pieces across Bexley in Crayford, Erith and Belvedere, and from the Artisan Street Library and Community Centre in the City of London, to the programme of cultural activities on the A13 Green under the flyover in Canning Town in Newham.

Despite such projects, arts and cultural provision is also being put at risk by regeneration and new developments across the capital. As London’s population approaches nine million and demand for housing and infrastructure grows, cultural provision is coming under threat from pressures on land use. Rising rents are forcing artists and cultural organisations out of their tenancies, developers are converting cultural workspaces to housing (sometimes bypassing the need for local authority planning permission due to permitted development rights), and new residential communities are successfully lobbying for the licenses of pre-existing music and other cultural venues to be revoked.

Cumulatively, individual incidents are having a marked effect across the capital. London now has 103 fewer live music venues than it did in 2007, representing a decline of 30 per cent7, and the capital is set to lose 3,500 artists’ studios - a loss of 30 per cent of the city’s artistic workspace - in the next five years8. The loss of such infrastructure will inevitably impact on London’s capacity to retain and develop artistic talent, undermining the local and regional cultural offer.


Creating the conditions for culture to flourish is not only about investing money, it is as much about creative thinking and the use of existing levers. Local authorities have various policy levers and tools at their disposal to mitigate some of the threats that new developments pose to arts and culture, and to embed culture in regeneration to create vibrant and successful neighbourhoods.

  • Local Plans set the strategic direction for development and use of land. The National Planning Policy Framework 2012 advises planners to set strategic priorities for the provision of ‘community and cultural infrastructure’ in Local Plans9 and requires them to ‘take account of and support local strategies to improve health, social and cultural wellbeing for all’10. Local Plans have to be in broad conformity with the London Plan produced by the Mayor, which requires boroughs to protect creative work and performance spaces (Policy 4.6Ca), designate and develop ‘cultural quarters’ to accommodate new arts, cultural and leisure activities (Policy 4.6Cc) and promote new ‘cultural and visitor attractions’, especially in outer London (Policy 4.6Cd). Ensuring that cultural provision is embedded in Local Plans provides a clear policy framework for new developments and for engaging with developers11.
    For example, LB Croydon has a strategic priority around the provision of new studios and creative incubators in its local plan, stating that ‘The council will promote the growth and expansion of the cultural and creative industries to make Croydon a better place to live and to act as a driver for growth and enterprise in the local economy. The focus for accommodating cultural and creative industries will be a network of Enterprise Centres.’ Several studio space schemes have developed since publication of the plan.
  • Planning conditions: Local authorities can grant planning permission for new developments subject to ‘such conditions as they see fit’ 12. This power to impose conditions enables councils to engage developers in dialogue about providing or investing in cultural infrastructure and activities​ 
    For example, LB Wandsworth produced a Planning Obligations Supplementary Planning Document with a section on Arts and Cultural Infrastructure which states that: All developments of more than 100 dwellings or non-residential developments of more than 10,000sqm are required to   enhance the range of arts and cultural opportunities in the area, by producing and realising a robust Cultural Action Plan 13. This has formed the basis for much of the cultural provision being delivered as part of the regeneration of Nine Elms.
  • Planning gains: Local authorities can also use planning gains to deliver new cultural infrastructure. Section 106 contributions are now restricted to mitigating site-specific development impacts, but local authorities can use the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) to develop or extend infrastructure across the local area. Charging authorities are required to compile ‘regulation 123 lists’ of the types of infrastructure that they intend to spend CIL proceeds on. Of the 31 boroughs in London that have published draft or formally adopted 123 lists, 23 have mentioned cultural infrastructure or specific forms of cultural provision 14. Including cultural provision in these lists is important in securing CIL receipts for culture.
    For example, Lambeth’s regulation 123 list states that CIL may be used to fund library facilities, as well as ‘cultural facilities (defined as publically owned or controlled theatres, cultural /arts centres, including the Southbank Centre)’. This follows the identification of a number of cultural   infrastructure projects eligible for CIL funding in the council’s Infrastructure Delivery Plan.
  • Special Policy Areas: Local authorities can establish Special Policy Areas (SPAs) to protect and promote clusters of specialist uses. Through a blend of licensing and planning policies, and detailed directions for land use, infrastructure and urban design, SPAs can safeguard and support the development of cultural and creative clusters.
    For example, Westminster City Council has established SPAs covering Harley Street, Savile Row and St James’s to protect and enhance the distinctive character and function of the medical, bespoke tailoring, and specialist retail and art gallery clusters that have developed in those areas.
  • Agent of Change principle: Agent of Change means that the person or business responsible for a change (such as a new development) is responsible for managing the impact of the change. For example, if a residential development is being built near an established live music venue, the developer would have to pay for appropriate soundproofing, while a live music venue opening in a residential area would be responsible for the costs. The principle is not currently statutory in the UK, but local authorities can take it into account when considering local planning applications.
    The most high-profile application of the principle is the case of the Ministry of Sound nightclub which secured an agreement from developer Englewood that they would incorporate high levels of noise reduction features in the development of a 41-storey residential development close to the club, and that, via a deed of easement, future residents would be prevented from making noise complaints about the club.
  • Meanwhile use: Regeneration schemes often present opportunities to make meanwhile use of vacant properties. London boroughs are increasingly capitalising on these opportunities to support pop up arts and cultural activities. By compiling databases of available spaces, negotiating terms of use with landlords, and offering business rates relief, councils can enable cultural activities such as exhibitions, performances, artist residencies and creative workshops to animate what would otherwise be empty spaces.
    For example, Brent Council and Locality co-founded the Meanwhile Foundation, a registered charity that facilitates meanwhile use of vacant properties by relieving landlords of their business rates obligations. The Foundation has supported a range of projects including South Kilburn Studios which saw a porta cabin in a housing estate transformed into 13 studios for creative professionals. Tenants can access the studios rent-free in exchange for training young people from the local area, and delivering a public programme of free creative events.
  • Establishing incentives for artists and creative SMEs: Local authorities can establish packages of incentives to attract and retain artists and creative professionals. With rising rents putting workspace beyond the reach of many artists, the provision of affordable work space is key to any such package.
    For example, working with the Greater London Authority, Barking and Dagenham Council is developing proposals for London’s first Artist Enterprise Zone. The objective is to establish a successful cluster of artists and creative businesses via a package of incentives including the provision of affordable workspace. The council is also currently exploring the feasibility of developing 100 new live-work units as part of a pilot in the Barking Housing Zone.
  • Business rates relief: Local authorities can consider granting discretionary business rates relief to local arts and cultural organisations which are conducted on a not for profit basis. This is in addition to the 80 per cent mandatory relief that organisatins with charitable status qualify for. Although this has cost implication for councils in terms of lost revenues, it can be worthwhile where the activities of local cultural organisations support councils’ corporate priorities.
    Research by London Councils into the rates relief activities of two boroughs in 2013/14 found that each granted discretionary business rates relief to between five and ten arts and culture organisations, ranging from £130 to £11,200 worth of relief for each beneficiary.
  • Licensing: Streamlining licensing processes and minimising regulation are also important ways of supporting local cultural activity. These processes can be reviewed in tandem with major regeneration schemes to ensure that artists and cultural organisations can capitalise on opportunities for performances and other events in and around new and existing developments.
    For example, the Busk in London Code of Conduct created by street performers, the Mayor of London, councils, businesses and the police provides guidance for buskers looking to perform in London, including advice on legal constraints and ways of resolving any problems quickly and efficiently. The code was designed to streamline regulations around busking, minimising licensing and resourcing requirements.
  • Brokering relationships: Local authorities are uniquely placed to broker mutually beneficial relationships between cultural organisations and other local institutions to protect and enhance cultural provision. They are also well-placed to broker private sector investment in new cultural developments through regeneration schemes.
    For example, Barking and Dagenham council granted a lease for the Broadway Theatre in Barking to Barking and Dagenham College. The theatre is now home to the college’s performing arts faculty, providing an opportunity for students to develop their skills in a real working environment, as well as hosting professional and community shows open to the public.

​Through the use of such policy levers, councils can secure and protect cultural provision so that arts and culture can continue to support regeneration and the development of successful neighbourhoods across the capital.

  1. The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society, 2014, Arts Council England
  4. Driving growth through local government investment in the arts, 2013, Local Government Association
  5. Take a Closer Look, A Cultural Tourism Vision for London, 2015-17, Mayor of London
  6. Annual London Survey, 2014, Greater London Authority
  7. Audit of live music venues, April 2015, Music Venues Trust
  8. Artists’ Workspace Study, 2014, produced by We Made That for the Greater London Authority
  9. National Planning Policy Framework, 2012, paragraph 156
  10. National Planning Policy Framework, 2012 paragraph 17
  11. The Town and Country Planning Association guide, Improving Culture, Arts and Sporting Opportunities through Planning, provides useful advice on how to reflect and embed cultural ambition in planning documents
  12. Town and Country Planning Act, 1990, Section 70(1)(a)
  14. London local government’s support for arts and culture: summary report, 2015, London Councils


Souraya Ali, Principal Policy and Projects Officer