‘Revenue Generating Machines’? London’s Local Housing Companies and the Cruel Optimism of Lean-in Urban Neoliberalism

Authors: Joe Penny*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: Urban Austerity, Land Value Capture, Local State
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In a context of on-going and exceptionally deep austerity measures, local authorities across England are seeking out novel ways of replacing dwindling fiscal transfers from the centre with new forms of income generation. For those councils in the nation’s capital especially, a hot land market seems to represent a golden opportunity in this regard if only the rising values can be better captured by and for the public. In this paper, I will draw on on-going empirical work in London into land value capture and the local state. Pushing against celebratory and boosterist narratives that circulate in local political and policy discussions about land value capture as an ‘urban solution’ to austerity, I will develop a more critical argument framed around the importance of taking seriously the local state as a relatively autonomous actor and site of social struggle shaped by geographies of central-local relations, tax and property. Two common forms of land value capture – planning gain and local housing companies – I will suggest, represent less a promising and innovative fix than a kind of cruel optimism in which the local state, in the name of local welfare, aligns itself to and so helps reproduce London’s financialised mode of accumulation with all of its deeply unjust consequences for the city’s low-income workers.

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