Edwards interim report


Michael Edwards,  Bartlett School UCL

Restoring collective interest in urban development

Summary of Research (original summary from application)

This project analyses the underlying instabilities and inequalities of the market-led urban development model dominant until its current crash, and the potential of alternative  models. The project draws together, updates and synthesizes professional experience, academic research and international network learning from the past 4 decades. The UK’s recent models for urban— especially housing—development have proved uniquely deficient, failing to provide good housing for all, redistributing wealth regressively, failing to capture revenues for infrastructure or collective services or to upgrade the stock for sustainability. My theoretical work and analysis of other European models offers appealing alternatives.

This is a self-contained project but has been planned in parallel with a related bid from Dr Robert Colenutt, which emphasises community-led development at the neighbourhood scale. We have worked together as colleagues in the field of urban development for over 30 years and our distinct but linked contributions would be mutually reinforcing.

(1) This project is an analysis of the implications for urban development of the property and housing market systems of the last decades up to their collapse, assessing the responses of government, financial institutions and property market and town planning organisations to new conditions. The associated UK systems for securing private contributions to infrastructure and social housing costs (through s106 agreements and levvies) are also disabled by the crisis and anyway needed replacing.

(2) My work over the last 20 years has been characterised by the analysis of urban development systems in terms of the relations between developers, investors, users, financial institutions and the various systems of planning and other state policies. A central concept has been ‘social relations of building provision’ developed by Michael Ball with whom I co-edited a book in the 1980s. The approach remains powerful and can accommodate the inclusion of the pensions crisis (affecting people’s saving behaviour) and the growing inequalities of income and wealth which are central features of today’s scene. It also lends itself to international comparative analysis where other countries or cities have evolved very different welfare regimes, tenure forms, lease structures or land-supply practices.

(3) I am interviewing key practitioners in UK and some other institutions (public, private and academic) to update and re-validate my earlier knowledge and appreciation of relevant practices. The main activity, however, will be writing-up of the work as a series of papers (initially in blog form for debate and at the conclusion of the project) as a book.


Work on the project so far has consisted of desk-work, reading, seminar discussion, study visits and establishment of a web site.

Desk work and reading

Much time has been spent re-reading earlier contributions to the topic by academic and professional writers, catching up with recent contributions and working up the resulting synthesis into a strong and integrated text.  This has been an emotional and intellectual roller-coaster:  I imagine I am not the only emeritus fellow who finds that the flurry of thought and action over recent decades is quite difficult to crystallise as a strong contribution to today’s crisis.  However it is proving to be very stimulating and

Seminars, discussions

So far it has been possible to discuss the developing work with individual colleagues and small groups in my home university and with the Highbury Group of experts on hosuing which meets in London quarterly. At the time of writing (2 July) I am discussing it with international collaborators in the INURA conference in Zürich and a number of friends and strangers are helping with critical comments on successive drafts.  A further seminar, centered on my draft final report of the project, will take place in London in the autumn of 2010.

Study visits

With Dr Colenutt (whose Leverhulme Fellowship parallels and interacts with mine) I made a study visit to the Netherlands on the spring in which we did intensive de-briefing with two main informants:  Arie van Weingarten who is most perceptive and experienced practitioner within the municipality of Amsterdam, having managed many urban development projects and negotiated land, property and development contracts.  Our other main informant was prof Barrie Needham at the University of Nijmegen who is both a leading writer on the Dutch planning and urban development process and an authority on comparative land policy across Europe. The results of that work will  be feeding into successive rounds of reporting on the project.

A visit to Rome in May enabled me to discuss the issues with academics and with the professional head / ex-head respectively of planning in the Provincia and Municipio. This visit also alerted me to a resurgence in theoretical work on theories of rent in Italy.

I am visiting Berlin later in July and shall be making further German visits and probably one to France in September.

Web site

I have set up a web site as part of the project, supporting equally my own work and Dr Colenutt’s.  It is in blog format and thus facilitates comments and interaction – though most respondents so far seem to prefer to email us direct rather than respond ‘in public’.  However we hope to see it become a more interactive forum as we post later stages of the work.  The site is to be found at https://societycould.wordpress.com


So far I have not published any finished results form the project.  However a substantial paper developing the conceptual and analytical aspects of the project is in a near-complete form and is semi-published on the blog where it is producing useful comments and suggestions.

Expenditure to date:

The Foundation’s grant is being valuably complemented by a number of unexpected paid-for speaking invitations (to Rome, Berlin) which means I shall be able to do more in the remaining months.  Bills for translation assistance have not yet come in and more is to follow.


This project has taken me longer to get going than I had hoped, partly because I have been much engaged in work with NGOs / civil society organisations surrounding the Examination in Public of the London Plan. That work is not entirely unrelated, but has slowed me down on the research.

All is now going well, however, and I am optimistic about good academic and policy outcomes by the end of the year 2010.

Michael Edwards


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