Academic journal article
By Meyer, Peter B.
The Town Planning Review , Vol. 79, No. 6
Partnership, Collaborative Planning and Urban Regeneration, John McCarthy, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2007, 154 pp., £50.00 (h/b)
This is an interesting and informative volume, providing some excellent insights into the local regeneration efforts, using Dundee as its case study focus. As I explain below, the title promises more than it delivers, and the comparative framework cited as important at the outset is never fully developed, so the transferability of the well-documented experience to other, especially non-UK, settings is limited. None the less, I found this an instructive read.
Chapter 1 lays out the structure of the book, and Chapter 2 offers theoretical frameworks through which to examine the data presented in rest of the volume. Given the heavy focus on the partnerships and relations between different public- and private-sector parties interested in regeneration and Mr McCarthy's interest in looking beyond the UK boundaries for comparisons and application of his findings, the past 20 years' debates over 'regime theory' in the US literature might have enriched these theoretical discussion. Then again, we may have some misunderstandings that need clarification: I was a bit befuddled by the claim, on page 21, that local government was more limited in the US than in the UK. Trying to draw comparisons in the 1980s, I found myself reconciling full general government powers held by US municipalities with the limitations on independent action by local authorities imposed by the 'tuppeny rate' in the UK. The history of local efforts in Dundee covered in this volume also goes back further than this.
Chapters 3 and 4, describing, comparing and contrasting urban regeneration in England and Scotland, are succinct and informative. Personally, I think they might have been strengthened with a brief look at Wales, especially in light of the claims to generalisability of the cases studied here. Given the key roles played by the Scottish Development Agency (SDA) and Scottish Office (SO), in both agenda-setting and implementation, they constituted important elements of the Scottish regeneration planning context. The question to this reader is whether the SDA and SO played unique shaping roles, or whether the same sorts of adaptations on the ground occurred in their Welsh analogues. If the impact of the Welsh Development Agency and Welsh Office on urban regeneration in Wales was comparable, then lessons could be extracted about the effects of increasing devolution of decisionmaking power and funds from Whitehall to regional agencies in England. Similarly, if the corporatist influence, identified as stronger in Scotland than England, also reared its (ugly) head in Wales, the role of private economic power as a source of that influence might have been more accurately tracked but these matters offer prospects for a different book.
Chapter 5 is as good an historical policy context-setting effort as any to be found in print, and beautifully prepares the reader for the more detailed discussion of recent efforts in Dundee, the book's case city. Required background on earlier efforts and their outcomes, and on the emergence of the current political imperatives, are provided clearly and succinctly.
Chapter 6, however, disappoints. The three cases of property-led development are well developed as individual efforts, but a key issue - that of location - seems to be overlooked, despite the private development sector's concern for this factor. For example, the failure of the waterfront Enterprise Zone to meet planning goals may have had as much to do with conflict over alternative land uses for a prime location as with economic problems. There is also a strange juxtaposition of observations on site attractiveness that is not fully explained (p. 81): McCarthy reports that the City Council assumed a need for external funding to attract private developers, and then, in the next paragraph describes the site as 'then considered as potentially the most attractive development site in the city'. …