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Is the landowner the driving force in urban redevelopment?

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Is the landowner the driving force in urban redevelopment? A stylish empirical study that breaks ground in evaluating the effect of brownfield landowners' stategies stumbles in clarifying their origins. Review by Edward O'Brien "The Impact of Land Management and Development Strategies on Urban Redevelopment Prospects" by D. Adams, A. Disberry, N. Hutchison and T. Munjoma in Development and Developers: Perspectives on Property by S. Guy and J. Henneberry (Blackwell Science, ISBN 0-632-05842-0, published 2002) During the past 25 years, there has been a considerable increase in the attention directed to the problem of urban redevelopment and regeneration. Traditionally, this has been a political matter, driven by concerns regarding the social and environmental problems of the inner city. These were seen as resulting from two key developments: First, Great Britain's post-war shift from manufacturing to service economy, which left in its wake tracts of urban industrial wasteland and unemployment (Goodchild and Munton, 1985:159); and second, the focus of planning policy on the 'decentralisation of people and jobs from the congested inner city areas' (ibid.:157). Reflecting this, property-led regeneration dominated British urban policy throughout the 1980s, the embedded emphasis being on the private sector in the lead role of policy implementation (Adams, et.al, 2001; Lloyd and Black, 1993:145). The present Labour administration has called for 'co-ordinated action based on the joint principles of design excellence, economic strength, environmental responsibility, good governance and social well-being.' (ibid: 153). Moreover, this time in response to a dramatic projected growth in the number of households (POST, 1998), the Government has set a 60% target for new homes to be built on previously developed (brownfield) land or by converting existing buildings (BGPSD, 2000:18). Meanwhile, the desirability of brownfield redevelopment from the perspective of the developer has been improved by the remarkable success of projects such as Canary Wharf, in south-east London. The present situation contrasts markedly with the image twenty years ago, when such redevelopment was viewed at best with reluctance (Adams, 1994), and even ten years ago, when the Canary Wharf project was deemed a 'crisis' (Adair, 1993:74). ...read more.


Approximately a third had a neutral impact on the redevelopment of their site. Fewer than one fifth discouraged development. Those that significantly encouraged redevelopment did so via such activities as assembling land, gaining planning permission, obtaining development finance and securing tenants. Those considered to have encouraged it intended either to complete the necessary actions themselves or to pass the task over to others at a later date (Adams et. al. 2002:143). Those considered to have discouraged development often did so for rational reasons, preferring to keep their land vacant or in its present state for future use. There was also evidence of unwillingness to sell due to unrealistic expectations of price. This observation is in keeping with the earlier findings of Goodchild and Munton who attribute this lack of realism to limitations in landowners' abilities to evaluate and anticipate market changes, in spite of a high general awareness of market conditions (1985:95). Further, it concurs with the Llewelyn-Davies study of the re-use of brownfield land in Strathclyde, which highlights 'a determination [on the part of landowners] to hold out for the highest possible value on a site [and] an unrealistic/optimistic assessment of the value of a site and its attractiveness to developers' as being among the main issues constraining or discouraging development on brownfield sites (1996:43). In view of the above, it would appear that rather than coming up with substantively new information and observations, Adams et. al. have confirmed some of the logic expressed in previous studies. Nevertheless, by doing so on the basis of such sound empirical reasoning, they successfully answer their first question, as to whether or not brownfield landowners impede or encourage redevelopment, and go some way toward formalising the mythology as to their behaviour. Equally, in the manner in which they deal with their second research question - 'does the tendency to impede or encourage redevelopment vary between different types of owner?' ...read more.


153). Taking into account the supremacy of European Union Law, this judgement effectively elevates the availability of grants and subsidies to the higher level of the Adams et. al. analytical framework, outside the scope of negotiation of landowners and developers. This analytical flaw is magnified by the great importance of such incentives in overcoming the adverse characteristics of brownfield development. According to the Llewelyn-Davies report, 'the size of the public subsidy required to make private sector development viable on brownfield land is quite significant.' (1996:10). Meanwhile, in cases where brownfield owners are concerned about the implications of decontaminating their sites, 'some state intervention may be necessary to bring sites to market and/or attract private capital to finance reclamation and redevelopment.' (Meyer, 2000:1). To conclude, Adams, Disberry, Hutchison and Munjoma's chapter makes a substantial contribution to formalising, if not dispelling, the prevailing mythology regarding the behaviour and motivations of brownfield landowners. The empirical research on which the chapter is based is rich in both depth and rigour. In answering the first two research questions they pose, the authors do not make observations that differ greatly from previous ones made both by themselves and others. This merely adds weight to the theoretical underpinnings of their study. Their explanation of the motives of brownfield landowners is a sophisticated though flawed one. It represents a substantial improvement over the structure/agency model proposed by Healey (1992), in being simpler and in admitting of engagement with actual events. The final query raised here does not demolish the account, but rather highlights the need for it to be more receptive to changes in the legal influents of property development determined above the national level. 1 In passing, the term development pressure is not defined, though it seems fair to assume that it refers to the demand for new property expressed in terms of the number of new developments for which planning permission is sought in a given period of time. Research Concepts for the Built Environment (M.A. European Real Estate) Edward Andrew O'Brien ...read more.

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