Planning for Sustainable Re-Urbanisation: Policy Challenges and City Centre Housing in Birmingham

By Barber, Austin | The Town Planning Review, March 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Planning for Sustainable Re-Urbanisation: Policy Challenges and City Centre Housing in Birmingham


Barber, Austin, The Town Planning Review


This paper investigates how urban planning and spatial policy at the local scale has shaped and responded to the rapid growth of city-centre housing development in Birmingham. The rapid growth of private residential development in the heart of England's large regional cities since the 1990s raises new opportunities and challenges for planners, especially concerning the long-term sustainability of this market and its implications for adjacent inner-city districts. While this phenomenon is the subject of a growing literature, there is little empirically grounded research into the recent role of the local state in facilitating, shaping or tempering this process in English cities. This paper aims to provide such an investigation through a detailed case study of Birmingham, site of England's second largest regional city-centre housing market. It critically analyses the city's experience through three phases of development and corresponding planning approaches with particular emphasis on the evolving use of subsidy - from early efforts to stimulate the market to more recent attempts to broaden and diversify the housing supply. This discussion explores the rationale behind policy, practical innovations, limitations and outstanding issues, including the need for a more proactive and integrated planning framework in the future. It concludes by highlighting the need for further empirical comparative research to better understand the long-term planning implications and opportunities raised by the city living process.

The centres of England's major regional cities have undergone a remarkable physical, economic and social transformation since the mid-1990s. The proliferation of new flagship projects, renewed economic and cultural vitality and enhanced environments, all encouraged by proactive city planning policies, are at the heart of new claims that we are witnessing the emergence of an English 'urban renaissance'. Perhaps the most striking aspect of recent change in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and other centres is the rapid emergence of city living - the rise of significant new housing development and new residential populations in the heart of these cities. This highly visible phenomenon has accelerated in intensity over the past 10 years, and there is evidence of a maturing, diversification and spatial expansion of this process as it increases in significance. For this reason, city living is becoming an increasingly important concern for urban planning practitioners and researchers.

This growth of new residential development in central districts of major cities has been explored through two main bodies of research. The first is through the recent revival of the gentrification debate, which focuses on the emergence of a 'third wave' entailing the redevelopment of industrial/commercial land and buildings for primarily residential uses. This focuses substantially on direct and indirect displacement effects as well as the changing character of gentrifiers, and it is international in its outlook, focusing largely but not exclusively on the experience of world or capital cities (Atkinson and Bridge 2004; Lees, 2000; 2003a; Smith, 2002; Hackworth and Smith, 2001). At the same time, a growing number of studies examine the growth of city centre housing development in British cities. Most of these draw upon case studies to examine aspects of market dynamics in particular cities (Bromley et al., 2005; Tallon and Bromley, 2004; Allen and Blandy, 2004; Lambert and Boddy, 2002; Seo, 2002; Madden et al., 2001). This latter field of debate has begun to generate a picture of how these city centre housing markets are maturing and of the emergence of problematic issues relating to social balance, longer-term sustainability and implications for adjacent districts.

Less well understood in the British context is the role played by planning approaches and the forms of policy response that have emerged at the local level. …

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