Headlines: March 17th, 2008

Regeneration policies are not delivering the expectedresults. British towns and cities in receipt of substantial urban policy funding designed to bring them up to the economic standard are declining. This calls into question the 30bn pounds spent in the last decade on a plethora of urban regeneration schemes delivered by a myriad of different agencies. Policy Exchange, an independent think tank, has looked abroad to find alternatives that could work better. A new report: ‘Success and the city – Learning from international urban policies’ charts a way forward.

The degree of flexibility given to cities matters and local autonomy is all important. Designing and delivering urban change is best done at the city level. The more removed the level of decision-making, the lower the likelihood of success. The Ruhr and Hong Kong exemplify the returns from city-led urban policies. The message is clear:decentralise where possible, centralise only if necessary.

Freedom alone does not guarantee success there must also be innovation. Devolving powers without ensuring competences leads to poor outcomes. The Polish cities of Lodz and Warsaw have considerable local freedoms but have not brought about change as quickly as expected due to low levels of policy knowledge. Powers on paper need to be matched by ideas on how to bring about change. Innovation and a culture of growth are critical.

Cities that have re-forged the link to their citizens produce better outcomes and this shows that accountability is vital. Vancouver and the Ruhrhave a strong tradition of engaging civil society, and change on the ground has benefited from this. Hong Kong has not and finds itself more open to attack when it comes to changing the city.

Policy has limits and to need to be seen in the context of geography. Size and location still matter greatly. Vancouver and Hong Kong are relatively successful due in part to their primacy and accessibility. They are global urban hubs and benefit substantially from this.

Editor of the report and Chief Economist at Policy Exchange, Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich said: “Collectively, the message from these cities is clear: the most successful have the powers and ambition to initiate change, the freedoms to think and be innovative with policy, and the mechanisms to hold local change to account. Giving cities powers alone, however, cannot buck geography. The most successful also benefit strongly from their location, size and accessibility, and these are sometimes difficult areas to bring within the bounds of policy.”