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Having it both ways: explaining the contradiction in English spatial development policy

Martin Burch (Manchester University, Manchester, UK)
Alan Harding (Manchester University, Manchester, UK)
James Rees (Manchester University, Manchester, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 2 October 2009




The purpose of this paper is to ask how the UK Government can currently hold such incommensurable positions, explicitly and implicitly, in respect of spatial development priorities within England, and suggest a research agenda that might produce a better understanding of such contradictions.


The paper contrasts evidence on the changing spatial economic geography of the UK with data on recent trends in identifiable regional public expenditure. Current spatial development policy is analysed in detail and contrasted with a range of implicit development decisions made by central government in recent years. The paper considers the adequacy of the literature on metropolitan dominance within UK political and economic life in explaining the discrepancies between what government says and does in terms of spatial development.


Significant discrepancies are found between formal spatial development aspirations as expressed in the Public Service Agreement on Regional Economic Performance and the outcomes of actual spatial development decisions, which are likely to widen rather than reduce the gap between regional growth rates. An important part of the explanation for this divergence is the metropolitan dominance of London but further work is needed on how this might better be conceptualised and measured.

Practical implications

A number of key lines of enquiry for further research on the future of UK metropolitanism and the sustainability of current policy choices are outlined.


This paper makes an original contribution to detailing the disjuncture between formal and implicit spatial development priorities, which will be of value to academics and policy makers.



Burch, M., Harding, A. and Rees, J. (2009), "Having it both ways: explaining the contradiction in English spatial development policy", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 22 No. 7, pp. 587-604.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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