The Failing Policy of Economic Cleansing

bridge to the south

The fortunes of Clarence Dock and Holbeck have long been intertwined.  Clarence Dock was a major transport hub in Leeds, where coal to power the heavy industry in Holbeck was brought in by canal barge from the coalfields of Yorkshire.

The decline of heavy industry in Holbeck led to the decline of Clarence Dock and most of Leeds – south of the river.

But over the last decade Clarence Dock has been ‘regenerated’.  According to one website it is

1.2 million sq.ft. of pure attraction. Clarence Dock is Leeds’ most exciting and largest mixed-use destination. Adjacent to the Royal Armouries the £250 million development has literally transforming the city’s waterfront creating a modern, vibrant and innovative urban destination.

(Glad to see that the money has gone into proper activities like planning and building rather than copy writing and proof reading!)

Holbeck too has had the benefit of massive regeneration.  In the order of £800 million of investment from the public and private sector to create Holbeck Urban Village:

Poised to become one of the most dynamic business and residential developments in the UK, Holbeck Urban Village is more than just another development.

A pioneer of urban regeneration, Holbeck Urban Village, will set new standards in sustainable development creating over 5,000 new jobs in the high value digital and creative media sector.

The language is interesting.  No ifs, no buts.  Bold, assertive and powerful.  No caveats about ‘economy permitting’.

Both developments are at the crossroads.  The websites may describe them as vibrant and dynamic but the reality is that they are in danger of becoming modern day ghost towns.  Shops going out of business and office space standing empty.  ‘Lively Piazzas’ standing lifeless.

But just imagine that all had gone to plan and that a vibrant economy had allowed these developments to soar with the eagles?  Ok we may have been looking at a sustainability nightmare and the already dreadful traffic problems might have been exacerbated.  But think of the jobs!  Think of the money!  Think of the GDP!  Think of the ever increasing value of the real estate!

And think about who would have benefited most?  Certainly not people who have for generations lived in and around the area.  Because this sort of development works (IF it works) by economic cleansing.  It works by attracting vibrant, creative and skilled people to shiny, happy places to work and live.  Our ‘gain’ is another communities loss.  It is a ‘zero sum’ game.

And as the land values are driven up, long standing local businesses are forced out.  When the cost of land south of the river was low it made good sense to brew beer on  a large scale.  It made sense to build a supermarket headquarters with low rise buildings and large car parks.  There was plenty of space and not many others looking to move in.  But this is regeneration.  We economically cleanse the area of those who cannot generate enough GDP for the space that they take up.

But economic cleansing is not just about business.  It is about housing too.  Land values and house prices are driven up on the edge of the city and justifications are made for further ‘regeneration’.   Family housing stock (low rise with gardens) are replaced by high rise designer apartment blocks.

The poorest are economically cleansed.  Driven from the valuable land even further into the margins of the city.

But the stalled economy, and the stalling developments, offer us a chance to demonstrate a different approach to economic and social development.  One that works with local communities instead of replacing them with the ‘creative classes’.  Perhaps we can challenge the basically unsustainable short cuts to economic development with sustainable long term approaches to community development.

Instead of ‘bankrupting the club’ in vain attempts at ‘Going Up A League’, perhaps we can start to seriously and strategically address the challenges of ‘Narrowing the Gap’?

My question?  Are community development professionals capable of offering a real alternative?


  1. Interesting post. I think the implication that creative industries equals yuppies is unfortunate: in reality a lot of creative activity is marginal, produces low returns but animates areas that are run-down and neglected (I commented on this last week at

    I think we should be careful not to suggest that ordinary or working class people are not creative. It’s the mistake the corporatists tend to make – bring ‘creative’ people in rather than recognise the latent and actual creativity that’s already there.

    In answer to your final question, I think community development workers will offer a better alternative when they and economic development professionals stop thinking in silos. In the real world community and economic activity overlap; community development professionals need to understand business, and economists need to remember that money isn’t the only thing that makes people tick.

    • Absolutely agree with you about the creativity of local people. Some really talented artists, writers, designers, film makers – the list goes on.

      However ‘creative’ as defined in the Regional Economic Strategy and other planning documents fails to recognise much creativity outside of the digital/high tech creative industries. Only apps developers, social media gurus, architects, designers and web strategists need apply!

      The beautification of an area to attract already developed, economically viable ‘creatives’ is in stark contrast to a policy of investment in and development of local talent. It is about funnelling people towards a centrally planned vision of the economic future rather than enabling a staggering diversity of talents and interest to flourish. We envelop more than we develop!

      Your thoughts on how we can break down the silos would be welcome! Perhaps there are opportunities in the Bradford Regen Academy?

  2. Well, ask me about the Regen Academy at the end of the year, but I’m optimistic that when you get people from different backgrounds or disciplines in a space where they can talk together, that’s a step towards being able to work together. I don’t think there are shortcuts.

    • Short cuts are always mistakes when it comes to this sort of thing. Are the community development workers engaged in Regen Academy too? It seemed very ‘placemaking’ from my somewhat limited perspective. Clarence Dock and HUV are both products of placemaking.

  3. It’s no accident that many of the iPhone toting herberts refer to themselves as a Creative Class. And when Regen Wonks people talk about Creatives they mean the Creative Industries.

    It’s unlike me to go all marxist at the drop of a hat, but isn’t there something about owning or controlling the means of production here?

    It’s absolutely no surprise to me that the creative people of Holbeck find themselves with their noses pressed up against the glass walls of people who own more stuff than they do. Because they do not own, nor control the assets underpinning this creative production.

    Economic CD is nowhere to be found. Instead, we’re all press-ganged into Community Cohesion and Health work. The bandaging up those who find themselves at the wrong end of the economic gun.

    I wonder what’d happen if we saw a group of people seeking to reclaim the streets for Leeds, of an evening and weekend? I wonder if any of the CD types like a good party. I know I do

    • The ironic thing is that actually they do own the means of creative production in a knowledge based economy. BRAINS. It is no longer about managed workspaces and spatial clustering. It is about diversity, connectivity, relationships and collaboration.

      I think it is time we had some CD work that acknowledges the wholeness of people and the interconnectedness of work, health and wellbeing. An approach that refuses the labels and the stereotypes and instead asks how can we help?

      So, where and when is the party?

  4. Hmmm. Temple Works here…well , sort of – I too am a consultant – but some days I am a building (along with a lot of other people who are now taking this on as their avatar.)
    Our belief is that a transactional space such as Temple Works in Holbeck offers the potential for people to create their own opportunities: cultural or otherwise. There is no CD as such. The strategy is collective. We’re not prettified, there is little or no money, the Wifi connection is crap, it’s cold as hell, the booze is dodgy, the basement bar smells terrible, the toilets have ghosts, no one has a Mac , we’re accessorised by cheap hardhats, and there are no advisors, mentors or business development managers.

    So what’s right with this scenario? There is no community development plan. We’re just opening the doors online and realtime, saying come in, and then seeing what happens. Regeneration operates on many different levels. Strategies are fine but organic development is too. People find a path to where they want to go. I agree with Mike: “ It is about diversity, connectivity, relationships and collaboration”. And it is truly offensive to think the creativity is an “industry” closed to the “local poor”. But in this case who is making this possible? Some self-described “big ugly developers” who are up to their necks repairing a unique and elderly gem, who have handed over the safe part of the site in the meantime with a budget to do small but amazing things, and said “give it a go”. Regeneration comes in many forms, and sometimes we just have to nudge those who have, grab what is available, and not just wait for planned opportunities. called…uhhh..urban villages.

    • I have been reflecting on the TW project and it is fascinating to me. The intention is clearly to save a very wonderful building and turn it into a commercially viable space. All power to your elbow in that one.

      However from my perspective the centrality of the building in the project, and the investment that it will suck in over the coming years, is problematic. You see I believe that before we invest in the preservation of buildings we should invest in;

      * the informal education and development of people,
      * developing their passions, talents and interests (few of which actually require access to such a phenomenal space as TW),
      * helping them to explore the role of association and collaboration in supporting each other to make progress
      * clarifying their self interest and building their power in its pursuit

      Now if the building can be the excuse to enable the ‘investment’ in people to be made….

      It is worth noting that these ‘investments’ in people are not primarily financial. They involve giving acceptance, respect, support and hope rather than cash. They involve building social capital (not networking). They involve helping people to access and use existing services and spaces.

      However it is buildings that suck up millions of pounds of ‘regeneration’ money. New buildings, old buildings. They all suck up the cash. Person centred community development , quite literally, does not get a look in. When the money goes into buildings it pays for architects, planners, developers and builders. Trickle down to the local economy is usually short lived and fairly minimal. It is just another component of the economic cleansing strategy. While there is no heat or light, while it is damp and smelly of course local people can use it. Once it is warm and bright with the associated cost overheads I suspect that many will be priced out of the place.

      I think what is happening at the moment to open up TW to local people for a variety of uses is excellent and commendable. It is good, pragmatic project management to get local people on side. To foster a love, a fetish, for the building. To develop a community who will campaign to have it saved. It is good practical politics.

      But the end game is the refurbishment of another, hopefully sustainable, building rather than the engagement and development of the local community.

      • 2 years on I was wrong. if 2 of the richest men in the world really wanted to save this building, they would have done by now! I suspect the end-game will be a ruin. Rubble. I hope I am wrong.

    • Fair play to you TeeDub

      You’ll notice my ire was piqued not by you, but by the deference of Regen types to the Creative Closed Shop operated by many of the Creative Class of Leeds. Where ideas are commodified, ap- (ex-?)propriated and enclosured.

      I utterly agree about the generosity and anarchy of opening spaces and seeing who turns up. If we were operating on a level playing field, I’d agree with you. But we’re not. Seeing who turns up, is often the quickest way to find yourself elbowed out of the way by someone whose leisure time is not spent chasing up a crappy landlord – or who still has the laptop they graduated with.

      There is definitely an issue of class here. And upbringing/background. And a sense of what can be possible in a world where free spaces are hard to find, and usually heavily policed at that.

      CD for me is a lot about taking back spaces, ideas and agency that used to belong to Commons. In fact a lot of the point is to align oneself in the struggle to achieve this. That’s why for many of us, the journey is as important as the destination

      Which is also why I am not over-enthused by the prospect of Regen types planning anything – other than creating a space in which people can play, and find themselves. And they also need to recognise that not all of us are as well equipped to party as others. Which – to stretch the metaphor far too thinly – means making sure we leaflet drop some areas more heavily than others. And publicise the drinks promos more heavily with some communities more than others

      This party has Regen appointed bouncers. And whilst everyone is invited (its not guest list only) some people’s faces fit more than others. The others being the not so beautiful people – with a fist-full of drinks vouchers

  5. Temple Works here. As a Grade 1 listed down at heel factory site this is never going to be much than a pretty accurate reflection of what it now: plus the roof will be safe, the toilets might work and there will be power. All that alone will take some time. The money being plowed in is all private. The opportunity to create something of value – locally, regionally and nationally – is there in the meantime for those who want to take it on…whoever you are! Park the theory for now, and give it a go. We’ll put out an all-points alarm to repel the Beautiful People!

    • It will be a fascinating journey. I will do what I can to play my part. Just concerned that the current voluntary labour and creativity of local people could get lost in the ‘big money’ conversations, and the ‘returns’ on its ‘investment’, that will have to take place.

  6. Always a risk! Let’s take it and see… great to have you involved…

  7. dumblikeapainter says:

    Look at Wakefield. More interesting ambitious developments there than anything Leeds can yet muster.

    Creativity is classless.

    Creative industries? – All industry is creative – these regen projects have lots and lots of consultant spin. Consultants are often used by Local Authorities as LA’s don’t really attract highly confident and imaginative people with the courage of their conviction. Consultants attempt to fill the gap as they empty the public purse with their fees.

  8. For me the whole issue is about the disconect between the people doing the strategy and the people who will use/ work/ live in these wonderfull places.

    The best example of which was one of the castleford projects where English Partnerships, shipped in at great expense a designer to create a “interesting” open space, what the community wanted was something to replace the storage container that acted as a community centre.

    The legacy of some of these good intention projects soak up massive amounts of time and energy from organisations who end up having to support these failed aspirations trying to make them work as nobody is prepared to consider that they might fail and the money used has been wasted.

  9. As usual an excellent debate.

    I’m one of Mike’s famous “anointed”: not because I’ve sought to be, but because of my job.

    I understand your push against the collective obsession with buildings, Mike, indeed one of my current big challenges is to help people see that it’s what happens in buildings, rather than them per se, that matters. But I do think you need to give Temple Works and what’s trying to be achieved there with the current project, a go. I will certainly try to do so, unless the people involved don’t want me to. Buildings do mean something and they can represent progress. The Calls is an example of things working, but even then of course we haven’t cracked the “Narrowing the gap” agenda.

    The defence of all of us is “Who has?”

    But that is no defence, and we need to move on the people agenda much more than in the past decade. The question is how. I’m trying to make a start in doing more by appealing to the top 100 businesses in the City to help us. And of course working out how the Council – in all its various guises – can help do so.

    I suppose what I’m saying is that you are all changing the thinking and approach in the City, you will almost inevitably be disappointed with what we can do, and so we need you in the tent to help us do the best we can do.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Tom.

      My push is not against an obsession with buildings. I love a great building. My point is that at the moment we have enough buildings. More than enough. We have spent enough on concrete, steel and glass. In many of the buildings little or nothing is happening. They stand empty ‘nestled’ as they are ‘in the heart’ of ‘gateways’….

      One way to stifle a community group is to tie them up in ‘buildings restoration and management’. It looks and feels glamorous. It brings significant investment. It ties people up in bureaucracy and administration. It drives all but the most ‘bureaucratically immune’ away. Community leadership once again becomes a small cadre of those who can tolerate the endless agendas and meetings. And often the only ones that really stay in the fight and benefit from it are not local people, but the consultants, often from out of town, who take contracts to work in their name.

      Developing a building ‘for the community’ often takes the eye off community engagement and development; helping local people to plan and organise to create a better future for themselves and their neighbours. Nurturing different ideas, forming different relationships, building trust and getting things done. Not giving them another expensive building to make work financially.

      Innovation and collaboration amongst ‘the anointed’ at the moment just produces even bigger shopping centres for us Tom. Which the developers have the cheek to label ‘sustainable’. I think they mean ‘financially viable’ assuming an ever more consumerist society where smaller numbers of people have even larger sums of disposable income to use in the acquisition of possessions.

      Temple Works is a very interesting project. I have done more than my fair share to support, not the building and its owners (the Barclay Brothers don’t need my help), but the people who have found a home there and are doing some great work. It will be fascinating to see, over the coming years, whether this is a project whose ‘arc of progress’ tends ‘towards’ or ‘away from’ social justice. As essentially just another ‘commercial’ project I have my own thoughts on how this will unfold.

      If you really want to move the focus on to the people agenda, please, PLEASE don’t start with a plea for help from the top 100 businesses. That way lies more paternalism. More top down imposition. Start with people. The people that you most want to engage. Listen to them. Find out what they really, REALLY want to do in the future. Then respond, with compassion and vigour. Businesses can be drawn in to help in the process of course, but they should not initiate it. They should not lead it. It has to be led from the communities themselves. Businesses, politicians, council employees and ‘agencies’ MUST learn to respond to local, personal agendas. Not impose on them. They have to find a new way of doing business. They have to complement their strategic work with genuinely responsive and facilitative engagement.

      I have recently met with some of the people running neighbourhood management in Leeds. I think they would be up for shifting to a model of neighbourhood facilitation as a different way doing ‘development’. But they have to be given the permission to try it. Resources have to be shifted to a fresh paradigm of development.

      Buildings as a sign of progress? Tower cranes as a signs that things are on the up? Well they certainly represent progress for some.

      But perhaps not for those that need it most.

  10. And by the way, John, you’re right about Castleford in respect of one project, but another – Yorkshire Forward funded – has produced a bridge that the people of Castleford can be proud of. A multi-award winning first prize rather than the second or third that a national approach would condescendingly anoint Cas with. One that of course has limited social capital in one sense, but huge dividends, not least from tourists, in others. The driving force in that project was a brilliant community worker who persuaded her town to back the work. She was empowered to do so by the big bad quango. So my other message is give credit where it’s due, or you will be listened to less and less, or worse still, distant London-based people won’t even deign to hear you.

  11. The businesses are one part of the equation. The top 100 employ well over 100,000 people in the city. Jobs are the simple key to lots of interlinked problems, so I think it’s right that we try to get a more coherent sense of what we expect from businesses in the city; their civic role if you like.

    I’m starting with many other parts of the equation too, not least the massive amount of local engagement at individual and neighbourhood level that the Council makes. I’m listening to people on the ground and visiting every ward in the city. I’m starting by making sure that we improve our support to the most vulnerable children, and work much better with partners like the schools and police in doing so.

    There’s lots to do and I intend to do it openly and with, rather than to, people.

    • I really hope that you are right and that ‘jobs are the simple key to a set of interlinked problems’. Especially of that is one of the bets that you intend to place on the city’s behalf. I remain unconvinced. Fighting to save jobs with employers feels a bit like putting a finger in a dyke full of cracks. Personally I think it is time to move the dialogue away from ‘jobs and employers’ and towards ‘good work and self reliance‘.

      Since the miners strike, when I started working in South Yorkshire on economic development, we have been waiting for big employers to come and create sustainable jobs for our communities. We have thrown millions at trying to persuade them to come and stay. For a while financial services and call centres flattered to deceive, but now that particular dyke is the most seriously cracked of them all. Biotechnology seems to be doing OK creating wealth – but not so many jobs. I am sure there is a strategy around creating green jobs that can be made to work, for a while.

      But, the fundamental challenge remains. We have to learn to look after ourselves. Not keep waiting for employers to figure out how to look after us.

      Dealing with the wounds in our communities matters. Of course it does. Building a context and a community in which we stop inflicting the wounds matters even more.

      It is time to help people to help themselves.

  12. Fascinating discussion, Mike. So much to mull over.

    Just in passing, picked up on your comment “It is worth noting that these ‘investments’ in people are not primarily financial. They involve giving acceptance, respect, support and hope rather than cash. They involve building social capital (not networking). They involve helping people to access and use existing services and spaces.” I have often over the years made the same point to local authority officers re the Paces Campus project; most recently to a local councillor who is struggling with working us.

    Something else: I’d be interested in walking Holbeck with you sometime to see it through your eyes. Any chance?


  1. […] So where is our equivalent of ‘financial services’ this time around?  Where is the sector that can create the jobs that provide the ‘simple key to a set of interlinked problems‘ […]

  2. […] around their ideas.  Mike Chitty called the latter “Economic Cleansing” and wrote an excellent blog post on the […]

  3. […] of affordable housing right, otherwise I suspect we will see the poor once again displaced in the failing policy of economic cleansing that provides the blue print for so much of what passes for ‘urban renewal and […]

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