GaWC Project 72

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Cities and Regions in Focus: The Role of City Development Companies in English Regions

Funded by: The British Academy (2008-09)

The British Academy

Grant holder: John Harrison



For many commentators, globalisation is a relentless force that increasingly defines the parameters of our daily lives. In such accounts, the complex web of flows and processes spawned by globalising forces appear to have homogenised practice across an increasingly borderless world. Much less evident in the prevailing discourse, but surely of equal importance and practical significance, has been a new regionalism that is countering this notion of the world as a borderless space of flows. Not to be viewed as the antithesis of globalisation, the new regionalism represents the conceptual belief that while some flows and processes are becoming increasingly unrooted from the confines of place, a range of countervailing processes are increasingly grounded in nodes of intense economic and social activity.

Within the literature on the new regionalism it is frequently asserted that this phenomena coincides with the resurgence of another territorial form, that of the city. Under the titles of ‘global city-regions' and the new ‘city regionalism' the reinvention of city-regions as competitive economic territories par excellence has led some to identify their existence as evidence of ‘global city centric capitalism' (Brenner, 1998). Likewise, the renaissance of city-regionalism could also be seen to constitute a new and distinctive postnational phase in the territorial development of capitalism. Not until recently, however, have debates sought to make explicit the connections between resurgent cities and the new regionalism. The applicant's previous research has already shown that a number of inherent weakness that undermined the new regionalism in the mid-1990s (Harrison, 2006), have been rescaled and collapsed into the new city-regionalism (Harrison, 2007). Furthermore, this research is particularly timely, with a recent special issue of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (Volume 31.1, March 2007) ‘establishing the terms for a continued debate' on the city-region concept.

Like the new regionalism that preceded it, the orthodoxy surrounding the new city-regionalism in economic development is particularly important in England given its currency amongst academics, political leaders, and practitioners alike. Originally part of the UK 's programme of Devolution and Constitutional Change, England remains the only country not in receipt of additional elected political representation. Following the demise of proposals to create directly Elected Regional Assemblies in the English regions, attention quickly switched to the subregional tier of governance, and in particular the city-region. Based on eight city-regions in the three northern regions of England, the creation of a new Northern Way Growth Strategy was heralded as offering encouraging faster economic growth, and act as a counterweight to the economy of London and the South East.

More recently, the Labour government have embarked upon an extensive review of subnational governance across England. As part of this, the Local Government White Paper Strong and Prosperous Communities (DCLG, 2006a) announced the Government's intention to promote the concept of City Development Companies as city or city-wide economic development companies formed to drive economic growth and regeneration in the English regions. Put out to consultation late last year (DCLG, 2006b), the Government is currently developing guidance which will explore the opportunities that CDCs will offer in further realising the economic potential of English city-regions, while providing an effective response to the ongoing challenge of tackling pockets of deprivation. Therefore, the overall aim of this project is to use the creation of City Development Companies as a basis to develop new knowledge's about the role of city-regions in the ongoing restructuring of the British state.


To meet this research aim, the project has three major research objectives: (i) to identify and analyse the importance of CDCs in the future development of city-regional economies across England (ii) to use the institutionalisation of city-regions in England as a lens through which to develop new knowledge's about the rescaling of political-economic activity; (iii) to publish and disseminate results to academics (in geography and its cognate disciplines), and relevant practitioner stakeholders involved in the development of England's city-regions.


The proposed research methodology comprises three stages: Stage 1: Critical review of academic/policy literatures on topics such as the political-economic dimensions of city-regions, the rise of global city-regions, the historical development of city-regional planning in England, the underlying reasons behind the development of CDCs. Stage 2: National level interviews (x10) with the architects of city-region planning and governance in England; primarily with key figures within government departments including the Department for Communities and Local Government, HM Treasury, and the Department for Trade and Industry. These interviews are designed to uncover how CDCs have come into being, what they are intended to do, and how they are reorganising the structures of governance in England. Stage 3: Case study interviews (x20) will be conducted across the three Northern regions – North West, North East and Yorkshire & Humberside – which are currently at the forefront of city-region development in England through the Northern Way city-region development programme. The prime focus of these interviews will be on cities such as Manchester and Leeds where the development of CDCs is presently underway, but there will also be a degree of flexibility built into the project to take account of any new CDC developments taking place over the project's lifetime.

In both stages 2 & 3, interviewees will be asked to explain the nature of city-region development and reflect on how this links to other scales (in particular the national and regional). All interviews will be fully transcribed, coded and analysed.


The research programme will de divided into four stages. Stage 1 (Feb-May 2008) will see the completion of an in-depth literature review (see above), alongside analysis of the development of CDCs in England. Key stakeholders at the national level will be contacted to arrange the interviews involved in stage 2. In Stage 2 (June-Aug 2008), interviews will be completed with key national stakeholders involved in the creation of CDCs. In Stage 3 (Sept 2008-Jan 2009) interviews with key regional and city-based stakeholders working with CDCs will be completed. Finally, Stage 4 (Feb-May 2009) will be used for any outstanding interviews, analysis, and to write up the research for publication and dissemination.

For results of this project, see GaWC Research Bulletins 319 and 326.