Issue date: 23 April 2002

ISSUE DATE: 23rd April 2002

Improving the quality of life in cities like Bristol – and increasing citizens’ involvement in matters such as the regeneration of local neighbourhoods – are at the heart of a prestigious project being led by the University of the West of England. Bristol is one of only two urban centres chosen from within the UK for the £1 million (1.6 million euro) project, which is funded by the European Commission. In all, eighteen cities from nine countries are being compared.

Voter turnout in local government elections in Britain is often less than 30%. The extent to which city leaders reach out to encourage the involvement of the community and disadvantaged groups will be one of the major issues under scrutiny.

“The UK is at the bottom of the league by far in this respect,” said Professor Robin Hambleton, of UWE’s Faculty of the Built Environment. “In contrast, councillors in Oslo, Norway, are concerned when the turnout there falls below 70%.”

Within the UK, Bristol has been chosen in part in recognition of its success in finding innovative ways of involving disadvantaged groups of its citizens. For example, the council has developed a Citizens’ Panel, and adopted a Democracy Plan.

The project, called Participation, Leadership and Urban Sustainability (PLUS) will look at how cities are run in the UK, Scandinavia, Northern and Southern Europe and aims to learn from best practices in these different cultures. Data from partners in two cities in New Zealand will add a southern hemisphere perspective. In addition, two international organisations representing European networks of cities will also take part.

“The novel thing about this research project is that we are looking beyond the UK to see how cities work in other countries,” says Robin. “This international dimension to our work on leadership and participation in cities is very exciting. It allows for the latest ideas to be shared across national boundaries which could benefit each country.”

The study will last for two and a half years, and involves representatives of the eighteen city councils as well as nine research institutes or universities. The city partners have all been chosen for progressive methods of governing and will provide practical examples as case studies. The research has the potential to influence policy on local government in a direct and immediate way, with the aim of leading to an improvement in the quality of life in cities.

George Micklewright, leader of Bristol City Council welcomed the project, saying:

“Bristol is a major European City and the Council is pleased to be a partner in this European project – involvement in this work helps us to contribute to the future of Europe. As a city we have something unique to contribute to this programme and we have a lot to gain.”

UWE is taking a lead role by co-ordinating the project as a whole, and will also be responsible for publishing the results of the research. Its Faculty of the Built Environment provides the administrative base for the European Urban Research Association (EURA), an international network of experts in urban studies. The team for the PLUS project consists of Professor Robin Hambleton, Dr. David Sweeting and Dr. Laurence Carmichael.

Editor’s notes

 The other UK authority involved in the study is Watford, which is in line to become one of the first municipalities outside London to be led by an elected mayor.

 The other European cities involved in the study are:
Bergen and Oslo, Norway; Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden; Enschede and Roermond, The Netherlands; Hannover and Heidelberg, Germany; Poznan and Ostrow Wielkopolski, Poland; Turin and Cinisello, Italy; Athens and Volos, Greece; Christchurch and Waitakere, New Zealand.

 The project is in line with EU objectives to:
1. Strengthen economic prosperity and employment in towns and cities
2. Promote equality, social inclusion and regeneration in urban areas
3. Protect and improve the urban environment
4. Contribute to good urban governance and local empowerment

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