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Governing urban regeneration: Planning and regulatory tools in the UK

Atkinson, Rob; Tallon, Andrew; Williams, David


David Williams


Drawing on our initial work as part of the PARCOUR (Public Accountability to Residents in COntractual Urban Redevelopment) research project this paper will investigate the forms of governance arrangements developed in three UK case studies (Bristol, Gloucester and Taunton) of public-private urban development partnerships and the associated planning and regulatory tools utilised as part of this process. Contracts, deeds, by-laws and other regulatory instruments are used as planning tools to regulate actors (from the public, private and civil sectors) involved in the regeneration of previously developed land. PARCOUR argues that contractual relationships create a specific form of governance that have important implications for the democratic legitimacy of projects for Sustainable Urban Development (SUD). More specifically by studying diverse planning tools in Brazil, UK and the Netherlands, PARCOUR will engage in the comparative evaluation of public accountability in relation to residents.
In terms of the UK case studies selected range from completed (Bristol), largely completed (Gloucester) to partially completed (Taunton) and their development ranges from the 1990s to the late 2000s (Bristol), the 2000s (Gloucester) and 2000s to the present day (Taunton). Although each was either conceived or being worked on during a period of time in which the prevailing discursive framework operated within an overarching neo-liberal discourse emphasising economic development and competitiveness over social and environmental outcomes.
We seek to identify two types of planning and regulatory tools:
1) those deriving from national legislation (and how they were deployed in each of our case studies);
2) any specific, more informal or ad hoc planning and regulatory tools developed with reference to the specific case study.
At this stage of the research we are assuming that in each case the relevant partnerships drew upon (1) and (2) in the light of their past experience in urban development partnerships and in relation to each case and its goals. Moreover, as part of the wider PACOUR project we seek to assess the extent/degree to which these planning and regulatory tools were able to provide some form of accountability to residents and other interested/affected parties as well as to deliver outcomes that were in the ‘public interest’. Indeed it is part of the project’s aims to determine how the notion of the ‘public interest’ was constructed/understood and operationalised by the various parties involved in the development process in each case study.
Part of what we hope to do is to understand how contractual relationships, particularly between the public and private sectors, affected/influenced public accountability (in terms of transparency of decision-making) and the delivery of outcomes that were, at least in part, in the ‘public interest’. The risk we perceive is that contractual relationships are shrouded in ‘secrecy’ under the guise of commercial confidentiality that obscures the ‘public gaze’ and runs the risk of effectively undermining both accountability and the ‘public interest’. Thereby creating a form of ‘subterranean governance’ that structures the way in which these partnerships operate without being subject to any rigorous public scrutiny and accountability.


Atkinson, R., Tallon, A., & Williams, D. (2017, July). Governing urban regeneration: Planning and regulatory tools in the UK. Paper presented at AESOP Annual Congress 2017

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name AESOP Annual Congress 2017
Start Date Jul 11, 2017
End Date Jul 14, 2017
Acceptance Date Apr 1, 2017
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords sustainable, urban, regeneration
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : AESOP Annual Congress 2017