Neoliberal Urbanisation and New Labour

By Kate Botterill

In a series of reflections on the legacy of New Labour, Jonathan Glancey asks ‘what has Labour done for architecture?’ He claims that since 1997 the Labour party has championed urban regeneration projects and the re-development of many post-industrial cities of the UK into ‘World Class Cities’, with competitive edge and creative promise. The sparkle of these ‘big promises’ for architecture and an ‘Urban Renaisssance’ in British cities, Glancey claims has been marred by mistakes in development approach, favouring centralised power and public private partnerships with big business.

Glancey argues that none of the parties have a handle on architecture and planning in this election and the current process is overwhelmed with too many interests –  ‘on the one hand there are private developers and party-funding big businesses; on the other, a tangled web of quangos, rival government departments, snake-oil design consultants and local councils’, while the interests of local communities and grassroots groups are struggling to be heard.

In an article written during Labour’s first term of office, Swyngedouw, Moulaert and Rodriguez theorise the nature of urban development in the European Union. The piece is a summary of findings of a Europe-wide study of thirteen large-scale urban development projects (UDPs) that were started in 1997 across the EU. They examine whether UDPs are ‘emblematic examples of neoliberal forms of urban governance’ and what effects they have on social inclusion/exclusion and integration.

They argue that UDPs reflect the New Urban Policies that were a feature of governance in the EU, based on principles of ‘exceptionality’, place-specific design, local forms of intervention and flexibility. In practice, they claim that projects using this framework were increasingly fragmented with a multitude of agencies and interests characterised for the most part by diminished responsibility, lack of accountability and selective participation. Eight years later and the efficacy of pluralist approaches to urban policy remain a point of debate and despite the multitude of interests some voices still remain unheard.

View pictures of the architecture of New Labour here

Read Glancey’s article in the Guardian here

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