Regional planning for housing and the abolition of regional assemblies: the West Midlands Regional Assembly: 1998-2010

Forrest, Stephen J. (2021). Regional planning for housing and the abolition of regional assemblies: the West Midlands Regional Assembly: 1998-2010. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis presents an original account of an important period for regional governance and strategic spatial planning in the UK from 1998 to 2010, and the reasons for its demise. The reasons and processes whereby regional assemblies, Leaders’ Boards and regional spatial strategy were abolished are examined. The thesis addresses a gap in the literature through an innovative case study of the West Midlands Regional Assembly based on an insider perspective and informed by in depth interviews with managerial, professional and political actors who played different roles in regional governance and planning until its demise. The author’s insider experience has allowed the distinctive methodological development of ‘participant observation in retrospect’. Thirty interviews with professional and political actors from within and outside the Assembly were conducted between 2012 and 2014, allowing a high level of recall soon after abolition.

A mosaic of theory is used, based upon three new institutionalist theories anchored against principal actor groups: historical path dependency, rational choice theory and the population ecology model, together with elements of Complexity Theory. Critical Theory provides the foundational background perspective. Theory of private sector organisational demise is also developed to explore public sector demise.

The political rhetoric used to justify the abolition of assemblies and RSSs is challenged by in-depth analysis, over four periods, of the inter-relationships of the key actor groups and the Government’s growing hegemony over its ‘devolved’ regional partnership project. At the heart of the demise lay flawed (mis)understandings and changing attitudes over the credibility of the regional project by regional and national political actors. The WMRA’s foundation as a young organisation was embedded in the much older West Midlands Local Government Association. This was seen by the WMRA as a strength but led to an increased vulnerability on both accounts as it proved to be unable to adapt to an increasingly hostile political environment. Despite the Assembly’s political unanimity of support for its planning for housing policy stance against the Government, this failed to protect the organisation. Despite New Labour’s regional reforms after 2009, the toxic organisational environment rendered the Assembly’s survival under the Coalition Government impossible.

New Labour’s approach to regional planning and governance presents a revised perspective on planning in England. Tensions between central and local actors, between the traditions underpinning the planning profession and practice, and economic growth agendas are emphasised. A further contribution is made by explaining aspects of the Regional Housing Board’s relationship with Government housing agencies and regional planning. The theoretical approach to understanding public sector demise indicates its potential for development in situations where public sector organisations cease to exist. A view held by some political actors that regional working was a European Union attempt to weaken the British nation state was not given credence by those interviewed, nor did it explain the demise. Assemblies and their brief lived successors, Leader’s Boards, represented an ideological tier of governance incompatible with Coalition Conservatives’ ‘small-state’. The thesis builds on existing Critical Theory and responds to Davies (2011) plea for further substantive accounts to validate and illustrate this literature.

The thesis’s focus on governance in the spatial tier between Central and local Government remains relevant to current housing and planning agendas, to managing sub-regional housing markets, to address public health crises and the current Government’s aspirations for ‘levelling up the regions’.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: School of Social Policy, Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Funders: Other
Other Funders: University of Birmingham Fee Bursary from Centre of Urban and Regional Studies
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
J Political Science > JS Local government Municipal government


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