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Re-urbanisation: characteristics, causes and effects.

The rise of the motorcar and the cheapness of land at the edge of the city led to a rise in out of town shopping centres from the 1960's to 1980's. Shopping centres such as Meadowhall in Sheffield, Lakeside in Essex and the Metro Centre Gateshead all developed and posed a threat to city centre shopping. At the same time, a lack of investment in the CBD (central Business District) led to the dereliction of some buildings and a general decline in the shopping environment. In addition, city centres suffered from crowding, poor air quality, a crime ridden image and poor parking availability. There was genuine concern that many CBDs would not survive and that we would experience the urban doughnut effect.

Initiatives were put into place in order to try and protect and revitalise the CBDs of many cities;

·         Pedestrianisaton was one method - restricting motor vehicle access along shopping streets and allow shoppers to feel safe and have good air quality.

·         CBD shopping centres were covered to prevent people being exposed to adverse weather - Eldon Square in Newcastle is a good example of this.

·         Money was spent on the public realm - all of the street furniture and paving, to ensure that the shopping environment looks nice.

·         Grants were made available to retailers to take on derelict buildings. This happened in Grainger Town in Newcastle.

·         Investment was made in Gentrifying (making buildings look nice!) the outside of old and historic buildings, as happened along the Quayside area of Newcastle.

There are some major policy initiatives from the UK in the past 30 years that have resulted in many but not all British CBDs staging a revival as places to live, work and shop.  Not all city centres have recovered in the same way, Newcastle’s CBD has been very successful in becoming a thriving place, but nearby Gateshead has suffered long periods of empty shops and low tenancy ratios (a recent revamp to the city centre may change this!).

Major city centre and inner city planning initiatives to re-urbanise British City centres:

Enterprise Zones (EZs) – areas of high unemployment were designated as Enterprise zones in 1981.  They offered lower taxes to businesses and companies and eased planning restrictions.  The Metro Centre Gateshead was established as an enterprise zone on an old industrial site (a power station) in which the land was bought for just Ł100,000 by a Sir John Hall company.  It was Launched in 1984 and the first mall opened in 1986.  The Metro Centre has grown and become a big success, but like many enterprise zones was criticised for not creating new jobs, just encouraging existing firms to relocate to take advantage of the tax breaks.  In addition, some sites like the Metro centre were found on the edge of cities, so actually act against the reurbanisation concept!

UDCs – Urban Development Corporations, such as the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation (TWDC) and the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC).  These schemes were established to completely redevelop areas that had suffered from Britain’s rapid deindustrialisation in the 1960s and 1970s as it struggled to maintain many of its manufacturing areas in direct competition with cheaper industries in poorer countries.  The UDCs therefore worked in areas that were haemorrhaging population and industries, which had large amount s of polluted and derelict land and buildings, and huge social problems.  They were established under the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980.  Under this act, urban development corporations (UDCs) had a broad remit (job) to:

  • create an attractive environment
  • ensure the regeneration of an area achieved by bringing land and buildings into effective use
  • encourage the development of existing and new industry and commerce
  • ensure housing and social facilities are available to encourage people to live and work in the area.

UDCs had lots of powers in order to achieve the aims above and they were set up across the country at different times.  London Docklands was established in 1981 along with the Merseyside UDC, and 11 more followed between 1986 and 1993, including the TWDC.  UDCs had powers to compulsory purchase properties and land even if the owners did not want to sell, planning powers and a general power to do anything necessary or expedient in the interests of their objectives. The UDCs tended to acquire land, clear it and clean it up (in the case of industrial sites), build infrastructure and then encourage the public sector to invest in the area and finish the job.  They were very much a public – private partnership but were heavily criticised for their lack of consultation with, and consideration of local people and their needs.  Despite this, they were a major player in reurbanisation.

You can find out about the history of the LDDC here


Single Regeneration Budgets

These budgets were part of a bidding process that allowed councils to bid for a central pot of cash held by the UK government, started in 1997 with the election of a Labour government.  This money was then distributed to the “winners” who would spend the money locally on improving run down inner city areas.  The scheme was slightly different in that it pulled together several funding “pots” into one allowing local governments more control and say over how to spend the money.  The Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle owes its cultural and housing regeneration to this funding stream.  It gained Ł2.4 million in funding which kick started the regeneration of this run down industrial area of the city.

English Partnerships

Now defunct, English Partnerships (EP) was the national regeneration agency for England, performing at a regional level a similar role to the national Regional development agencies.  They had a responsibility and active role in redeveloping the Thames Gateway and expanding Milton Keynes.  In 2008 it ceased to exist and passed its powers passed to a successor body, the new Homes and Communities Agency.

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