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The United Kingdom’s Experience in Revitalizing Inner Cities

Peter Hall

Mayo 2007, inglés

Peter Hall discusses chronologically the urban regeneration effects undertaken in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years. The British urban development patterns discussed by Hall are very different from those in Asia. The deindustrialization and technological changes of the 1970s and 1980s resulted in severe job losses in Britain’s major industrial centers. Between 1966 and 1983, 3.1 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the north of England. Urban centers such as London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside saw their populations depart for suburban areas when the increase in service activities failed to generate enough employment to compensate for the job losses produced by deindustrialization. By looking at how London has dealt with these urban changes since 1977, Hall is able to provide a historical description of the government’s policy on inner-city regeneration between 1977 and 2006, including its experimentation with diverse approaches.

Although the British government is highly centralized, its urban renewal policy devolved to local urban authorities after issuance of the White Paper on Inner Cities in 1977. Regional aid was cut dramatically, and funds were redirected to increase expenditures on urban programs. The idea of using quasi-public agencies, such as urban development corporations (UDCs), to spur inner-city investment also began during this period. Yet the effectiveness of UDCs, as Hall argues, was questionable (with the exception of London Docklands). Thus, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher established enterprise zones to induce private investment in economically depressed areas. These zones provided investors with expedited planning procedures, rates (property tax) exemptions, and simplifications of other bureaucratic processes for operating a business in these areas. The effect of this program in terms of generating jobs was modest, however.

In the mid-1990s, the British government shifted its attention to redeveloping brownfields—a step triggered by the projection of a major housing crisis. The redevelopment of abandoned land and buildings was perceived to achieve the goals of reaching housing targets and of renewing derelict neighborhoods. In 2002 it became evident that voluntary collaboration between the public and private sectors was less effective in achieving the urban regeneration and employment goals than an effort directed by an executive body with clearly defined mandates, powers, and resources. As a result, since 2002 various new local delivery vehicles (LDVs), including the former UDCs and slightly weaker urban regeneration corporations (URCs), have begun to form. Recently, however, questions have been raised about the extent to which these LDVs should have more local planning powers and the authority to capture land value increments arising from their activities. Concerns also have been voiced about having too many overlapping and ineffectual agencies within a jurisdiction. At present, it is unclear how these matters will be resolved.

This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s annual Land Policy Conference in 2006 and is Chapter 11 of the book Land Policies and Their Outcomes.