By Mark Smulian
Efforts to engage faith groups in regeneration projects have struggled because councils have 'an essentially secularist agenda', a Church of England report warns.
Misunderstandings include an assumption by many councils that all faith groups must be from ethnic minorities, while others saw them as trying to make 'illegitimate inroads into the public domain'.
But councils are not alone in facing criticism in an attack on regeneration policy in the Faithful cities report, launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Dr Williams said the report, 'challenges us all, churches, faith communities, development agencies and government, local and national'.
The report claims 'the regeneration industry' puts property development ahead of residents' needs, and assumes on scant evidence that economic benefits will trickle down to poor residents.
High salaries for regeneration jobs were, for some, 'an ironic sign of how poverty can become big business,' it adds.
'Property is king in the regeneration game. The enhancement of real estate has become an end in itself.'
Too often, poorer residents are displaced and dispersed by these projects, and the 'trickle down' theory is rarely tested because 'the political imperative to show big regeneration projects as successful is often just too strong'.
Where churches enter regeneration partnerships they face the risk of 'being co-opted to legitimise developments that are driven by the appetites of property developers [not] the interests of local people,' the report says.
Broken promises that projects would give residents clear influence over their neighbourhood had generated 'real anger', the report claims.
It says this gap between rhetoric and reality might drive churches to 'withdraw completely from public life, or to become drained and co-opted by the shifting agendas of statutory agencies'.
Church members who had engaged with councils and statutory bodies had suffered, 'widespread disillusionment with the government's pledge of civil renewal'.