Urban Task Force Report - 25 Anniversary Survey and Summary

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The report was published on 29 June 1999.  The Urban Task Force was one of many task forces that had been set up by the new Labour Government brought to power in May 1997.

The report was a response to studies showing increasing urban decline and social polarisation in many English towns and cities up to the late 90s. With a projected 3.8 million households increase over the next 25 years, the report set as its objective the regeneration and repopulation of Urban areas and ways to achieve this. The recommendations centred around

  • design,
  • planning and organisation,
  • maintenance and management,
  • innovation and skills development, and
  • economic support.


Design principles

Develop a national framework for sustainable and integrated development primarily in recycled land centred around making urban areas.

Compact (higher densities)

  • Counter urban sprawl and protect “tranquil areas”
  • Focus economic and social activity around urban centres and local ‘hubs’.
  • Ensure all parts of the city are within an acceptable distance from basic transport and social facilities.
  • Instead of ‘SLOAP’ (Space Left Over After Planning), consider urban open space as “a vital part of the urban landscape with its own specific set of functions”.
  • Reclaim the street to meet many different community needs, as opposed simply to providing a conduit for motor vehicles.
  • The report suggests that “urban areas should be organised in concentric bands of density, with higher densities around public transport nodes, (rail, bus and underground stations), and lower densities in less connected areas.”

Environmentally responsible

  • Respect biodiversity
  • Harness natural resources
  • Reduce call on non-renewable resources


  • Preserve historical character
  • Incorporate wildlife requirements
  • Raise quality of new buildings
    • Generosity of space
    • Quality and durability of construction
    • Optimisation of off-site construction
    • Flexibility of building allowing for space to be reconfigured
    • Combine a single environmental rating and a single running cost rating, so that home-buyers know what level of building performance they are getting.

Mixed use

  • “successful urban neighbourhoods integrate a range of services near residential areas without creating single-use zones of shopping, business and housing”
  • “the fringes of our towns and cities have been transformed by free-standing enclaves, surrounded by car parks and access roads” which has “undermined sustainability in economic, social and environmental terms”.
  • “achieving more mixed and balanced communities, with convenient local services, will often require a readiness to restrict any further expansion of services that draw on a wider and predominantly car-borne catchment”

Socially inclusive

  • Counter social segregation by ensuring different types of housing are fully integrated.


  • Prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and public transport over car use, for example creating green “‘centre to edge’ networks of public space which provide the basis for longer journeys for pedestrians and cyclists”. These should respond to ‘desire lines’ for pedestrians.
  • Integrate land-use and transport planning
  • Prioritise affordable forms of access for areas with poorer residents
  • Improve public transport through
    • Ensuring transport hubs benefit from the maximum catchment population possible.
    • Prioritising development opportunities on the basis of their proximity to the existing and potential public transport networks.
    • Financing more major focal public transport schemes e.g. light rail

Planning and organisation principles

The report maintains the importance of making planning long-term, strategic, competitive, and participatory:

Recommendation for “The Spatial Masterplan” which is ideally

  • visionary and deliverable: it should raise aspirations for a site and provide a vehicle for consensus building and implementation; -    
  • fully integrated into the land use planning system, but allowing new uses and market opportunities to exploit the full development potential of a site;
  • a flexible process, providing the basis for negotiation and dispute resolution; a participative process, providing all the stakeholders with a means of expressing their needs and priorities;
  • equally applicable to rethinking the role, function and form of existing neighbourhoods as creating new neighbourhoods.

Encourage design competitions.

Guarantee public participation at regional, local and community levels

  • Use a jargon-free approach to consultation coupled with a flexible programme of engagement which allows different sectors within a community to participate on a range of different issues at different stages within the process

Better resource Regional Planning Bodies

  • Co-ordinate a ‘plan, monitor and manage’ approach to housing allocations, delivered through regional planning guidance with stronger statutory status

Improve the planning system

Planning Challenges

The current planning system does not account well for the complexities of urban redevelopment, making it harder to get permissions in cities compared to greenfield sites.

“The system is reactive; it has become too focused on ‘controlling’ development.”

It is sluggish, overly focused on control, and reactive rather than proactive, leading to delays and inefficiencies in decision-making.

Proposed Changes

Development plans should be simplified, more flexible, and strategic, aligning with other local initiatives. Detailed site-specific policies should be avoided in these plans.

Regeneration areas should use a more integrated spatial masterplan approach, which includes community involvement and comprehensive area planning, rather than relying solely on traditional plan inquiries.

  • “Simplify local development plans, with a stronger emphasis on strategy to create a more flexible basis for planning. The plans should avoid including detailed site-level policies. (43)
  • Support a more streamlined planning process in Urban Priority Areas by enabling the Secretary of State to take action against authorities that consistently fail to deliver planning permissions within a reasonable time period. This should be done by: – using his powers to call in applications; – enabling developers who do not get a decision within the requisite period to recover all fees if the authority is responsible for unnecessary delay; – as a last resort, appointing a statutory agent with the relevant statutory planning powers. (45)
  • Require local planning authorities to conduct a review of all local rules, standards and procedures to consider whether they can be revised or removed to enhance urban development. (46)
  • Devolve detailed planning policies for neighbourhood regeneration, including Urban Priority Areas, into more flexible and targeted area plans, based upon the production of a spatial masterplan and the full participation of local people. The resulting policies and guidelines should take the form of strengthened supplementary planning guidance where necessary. (47)
  • Tackling outdated zoning - Review, at a regional level, the designations of employment sites in local development plans, taking into account economic needs, but avoiding over-provision, and accelerating the release of land for housing development. (48)

“The planning system is the key tool in controlling land supply. We therefore advocate future management of our land supply based upon a plan-led sequential approach to identifying and releasing land for development.”


Continued management and maintenance

The report maintains that “local services are best delivered through a combined framework of strong strategic municipal government and responsive service management”:

  • Local authorities
    • Give local authorities further resources and strategic responsibility for the whole of the urban environment so that services can be most efficiently supplied.
  • Expert local leadership
    • Create a “network of dedicated environmental managers, wardens, caretakers and community-based management organisations to ensure that the services which are provided are those which people themselves need and prioritise”
  • Community-based neighbourhood management
    • “A neighbourhood organisation creates a stronger sense of local control over service provision”.
  • Public attitudes
    • Encourage people to look after their urban environment.
  • Urban priority areas
    • Enable local partnerships to target regeneration incentives and investment on areas where there is a mix of economic need and latent market potential.
  • Coherent regeneration programmes
    “Too often, government departments are creating new initiatives without due consideration of how these initiatives will integrate with existing programmes and structures.”
    • “Ensure that government initiatives and programmes are sufficiently flexible to enable local partnerships to interpret them in respect of their own administrative and service boundaries;
    • integrate and rationalise existing area based initiatives wherever possible, including where these are managed by different government departments;
    • deliver programmes through the regional structures; this means that certain government departments will need to strengthen their regional presence in the Government Regional Offices and the Regional Development Agencies;
    • make greater use of block budgets for local government and their partners, extending the principle of a single mainstream capital funding pot to other special programmes.”
  • Creation of Urban Regeneration Companies
    • a single purpose delivery body leading and co-ordinating the regeneration of neighbourhoods in accordance with the objectives of a wider local strategy
    • Comprised of directors from each sector
  • Increase employment of experts in certain key posts

Development of skills and innovation

The report identifies a lack of skills such as area master-planning and project management, along with a lack of funding for innovation, and so recommends

  • Broader-based skill set for professionals with a strong emphasis on problem-solving and multiprofessional teamwork

    • Encouraging more inter-disciplinary education and professional development to enable effective project management for mixed schemes which combine residential and commercial development, and related infrastructure provision.
    • (“only perhaps 3–4% of the graduates entering relevant urban professions each year will have undertaken the kind of hard-edged multi-disciplinary study on offer”)
  • Provide a further grounding in urban design at all levels of education
    • inject the basic principles of urban design, development and management into relevant school teaching subjects: history, geography, design and technology, art etc.—through the National Curriculum; –
  • Develop professionals’ skills in a range of participative mechanisms.
    • The report emphasises that “the success of genuine participation exercises depends on the quality of independent facilitators who have the negotiating skills and understanding necessary to make projects happen.”
  • Develop skills of local people.
  • Invest in housing research concentrating on sustainability and value-for-money.
  • Creation of Regional Resource Centres for Urban Development to provide and encourage the missing provision.

Economic support

The report adopts the approach of using public investment to provide the necessary stability to attract needed private investment along with further incentives.

  • “An urban renaissance will only happen if the market is able and willing to make it happen. The market will only play its part if the investment conditions are right—there is demand for the housing and there are the right supply opportunities. Government can use the financial system to ease that process. It can do so by working in partnership with the private sector to provide channels for institutional funding to flow to urban areas that have some latent market potential. It can also do so by employing the taxation system to help secure particular regeneration objectives in designated areas.”

  • “The guiding principle is that we need to make public funds work harder in leveraging private investment”