McConaghy, Des (1975), SNAP: an Urban Programme , in Brand, Janet and Cox, Edits.
Report of the 1974 Seminar The Urban Crisis: Social Problems and Planning, (RTPI, London 1975).

Case Study 3

SNAP: an urban programme

Des McConaghy



I was first asked to talk about the Shelter Neighbourhood Area Project (SNAP) as a Liverpool 'case-study'. Much was indeed relevant to local deprived areas, but all is recorded in a final published report which contains the anecdotes of minor successes and failures. (1) That report also presents many of the problems and ideas which have since appeared in the 'inner area studies and recent Home Office programmes, local management problems, pilot 'housing action areas', (as we now call them), residents' improvement programmes in general improvement areas, multi-service centres and housing co-operatives. The co-operatives, in Liverpool, are still the most vigorous in Britain and are a 'clean' example of public participation', 'clean' in the sense that people are very much part of it all. But I do not want to spend this brief moment reiterating local issues which you should all be familiar with by now, in your town and mine. So, briefly, I am going to try to summarise some of the final proposals we put forward in 1972
-   giving some hint of the new 'urban programme' we placed them in.


It was fundamental to our conclusions that the inner city - or 'multiple deprivation' - were not really definable topics. In terms of action they could not be considered outside the context of the urban economy of which they were a part. Solutions, also, could not be pursued for such areas in isolation. So the 'direction' of our effort was to see local action as part of a clear response at national level to the problem of diminishing opportunities: diminishing opportunities for people, for many of their democratic institutions, often for whole cities
-   and now, if we are to be frank, for the whole urban economy.


Briefly, there were six elements in our final recommendations. Beyond the blunt and unfocussed discrimination of the rate support grant and proliferation of special measures and agencies, we needed a new key sector urban renewal grant. We needed the clear recognition of priority areas in which authorities themselves could bid for supplementary resources. These extra resources would be earmarked for severe concentrations of problems, or tasks, which were important to Government but clearly beyond the immediate resources of authorities. (2)


Secondly, in areas of deprivation, we said that the programmes needed to combat the primary causes of deprivation should be brought together in a corporate planning process. (3) This would be used to identify supplementary expenditure and standards really relevant to people's needs. Rational deployment of personnel would also be necessary under a single executive or local government manager.


Thirdly, any application of this new key sector grant needed a completely new executive to forge links between the separate functions of government departments and between the new local authorities themselves - wherever and whenever such inter-departmental and inter-agency work was quite clearly crucial to an effective and strategic response to problems.


Fourthly, to provide the authority and enable the programme to happen, we needed nothing less than a new 'task force' under the Cabinet Office, the consolidation of all Whitehall regionalisation in a 'territorial department' where a 'regional co-ordinator' linked all the priority programmes advanced by the new districts and strategic authorities. (4) Each bid would be concerned with priority comprehensive action in areas of deprivation, or suburban development areas, new towns and similar priority tasks in the city region.


Fifthly, we needed to see all these proposals as part of a defined funding capacity replacing and vastly enlarging the present 'urban programme'. This did not necessarily represent new resources as far as the taxpayer was concerned, but it would collect relevant Public Expenditure Committee forecasts for the many tasks of this nature now financed and administered by Government in many ad hoc ways across city regions. Within this new 'urban programme', the authority for joint action would be recognised and broad criteria established for designating areas, for publicly acquiring development land, were implicit in the priority public expenditure programmes and, of course, for agreeing performance standards.


Finally, this special purpose funding and strategic funding capacity would be made accountable to the authorities involved and to Parliament in a defined 'regional development programme'. (5)


I know all that is pretty stuffy and hard going but, after two years in Whitehall with authority to observe the work of many excellent directorates, it still rings true for me. If it has seemed impracticable, the objections are perhaps more instructive than the proposals themselves. It implies that the management of the urban economy bears very little clear relationship to the priority tasks of urban and regional recovery. (6) I think this is, in fact, the case. It also implies that the co-ordination provided by our planning system has precious little to do with the spending of money. (7) I think this is also the case. Finally, it implies that we have no adequate definition of 'regional development programmes'.


Beyond these 'minor' difficulties lies the annoying insistence that urban deprivation is only the most visible and distressing manifestation of fundamental weaknesses in national, regional and local economics and in the institutions charged with managing them. I think there was another important snag: no single civil servant exists who is senior enough to investigate implications running across so many departments.


Professor Cullingworth has referred to these problems of departmentalisation and, indeed, this was a running battle between myself and departmental secretaries. (8) But if I could compound such mundane difficulties with something more substantial, I must refer back to the central purpose: to forge a response to diminishing opportunities at every level. This must mean renewing the economic base of our cities in order to improve real incomes, (only in this way can local government buy services). And then, if this is the key matter, I humbly ask which Whitehall department is clearly responsible for that? (9) I repeat, and this was central to our recommendations, the task of improving real incomes had to become central to what we do in priority areas.


The wider context

We stressed that our inability to see urban deprivation as part of the urban economy was quite as serious as the academic problems of departmentalisation. The result had to be the proliferation of ad hoc special measures and special agencies with no coherent framework. In an economy with a quarter of a century of economic crises, such measures could do little to improve the structure of the economic base of older cities.


It is the most persistent weak-thinking to imagine that by concentrating efforts or resources solely on certain enclaves, the problems of these areas will slowly disappear. It remains the most persistent weak-thinking to imagine that such enclaves could experience a dramatic change in their circumstances while surrounding areas - or whole urban regions around them - continued to decline. And, should we be so miraculously successful without simultaneously relating our action to overall trends and programmes, how could we possibly avoid new areas of more extreme deprivation appearing elsewhere?


So, it is clearly not possible to say that the problem of 'inner areas' or 'urban deprivation' is A or B, and that such problems will be overcome by doing X or Y. The only possible approach is to begin to find a sensible way of clearly relating appropriate priority action in the most difficult areas to priority action elsewhere. This type of executive action, which has to break across local and central departmental boundaries and jurisdictional boundaries of local authorities, can only be effected by defining a funding capacity for such special tasks. This must pull together the senseless proliferation of ad hoc special area measures in the 'inner areas' and put them in a strategic context by relating them to the similar range of ad hoc measures deployed in the overall tasks of urban and regional recovery.


In this way, a highly innovative urban programme could result, complementary to the normal functions of permanent local government, but in no sense usurping its statutory powers or control. Indeed, such a fund would become the vehicle of a new continuous dialogue between Government and the new authorities - testing alternative courses of action for their generative effects within an overall strategic programme.


In our SNAP report we pointed to the absence of such a dialogue and the inevitable resort to appointed agencies, such as a new strategic housing authority for London. Such centralisation has become the usual response to failures in governmental apparatus and, with each such remedy, local democracy suffers. Nor is it necessarily the case that we have then forged a new device which really knows what to do or, in the literal sense, can ultimately be afforded. The possibilities of endless friction are too obvious to mention. I am not against the 'judicious' use of appointed agencies where they are obviously vital. But in the absence of any more sophisticated, intelligent dialogue between Government and authorities, such agencies become ossified as economical agents for innovative change in our permanent democratic institutions.


Recently, I took out a map of a city and roughly plotted 14 types of special area treatments within one mile of each other. Proposed housing action areas, planning action areas, conservation areas, comprehensive development areas, smoke control areas, general improvement areas, proposed priority neighbourhood, a home office neighbourhood project, an educational priority area, inner area study, management trial area, community development project-and another sort of priority area in the pipe-line! Professor Cullingworth has referred to this as 'interesting competition', but it shows rather plainly a governmental anarchy less visible in more fortunate areas.


The right direction

What is mildly hopeful is that, here and there, we are moving gradually in the right direction. The recent announcement of Home Office proposals for comprehensive community programmes (10) does aspire to embrace a number of programmes locally. But so far there is no indication how such action would be controlled, the number of areas, the orders of magnitude or any echo of the way SNAP tried to integrate such innovations into its system of local government finance. I can remember the exact agonising moment in time when we struggled with these same problems - only to finally realise that this could only be done in the widest strategic context. But, as Barry Cullingworth says, Government has to move slowly-and these are early days. Most importantly, CCPs echo SNAP'S emphasis on the bidding system which, as in the new Transport Supplementary Grant, opens up the whole business of Governments 'diagnostic' abilities, if any, in a meaningful dialogue with authorities. (I personally feel that the development of such diagnostic roles is an aspect of planning, across the board, which Whitehall is not likely to be enthusiastic about. It anticipates a more demanding, if upgrading, role not naturally developed by any modern social institutions.) But the very good features of housing action areas have been qualified by Government in that they do not reflect the complexities or scale of problems. Beyond priority neighbourhoods, the search has also begun in housing for some wider measure which can be deployed in a strategic context (11). Here again, the economic base of areas and levels of income must prove to be a fundamental factor in the development of coherent housing policy. Area management trials, a feature of SNAP'S general purpose key sector grant, have been initiated. Liverpool has appointed its first area executive, and so on. But, quite clearly, all these and other initiatives reflecting our proposals, may have to be pulled together within wider terms of reference.


Before concluding, I think it is worth mentioning another major difference between our ideas for concerted action at the local level and proposals for comprehensive community programmes. SNAP foresaw quite large areas for treatment and felt that populations of 30,000 to 40,000 were necessary because quite large areas are needed to allow sufficient local procedural innovation in component programme areas and to encourage management dedication of mainline management in local government and enthusiasm of councils; and, in any significant programme of positive discrimination, there is both a political and technical necessity that the effects should be beneficial, not only to the immediate target area, but to conditions in the local authority generally. Finally, I warmly welcome the formation of a Cabinet Sub-Committee to co-ordinate all the measures I have spoken of for areas of deprivation. Recently I was asked in Whitehall if this does not meet the SNAP recommendation for a task force under the Cabinet Office. It does not. My one reservation about this excellent initiative is that coordination is only a part of the story: positive policy content is the other essential ingredient. Co-ordination of measures to combat poverty, or to begin to turn the tide in our older cities, only makes sense to me if it is placed in the overall urban context. Because it is an inescapable fact that the capacity for recovery in deprived areas can hardly be more advanced than that for the urban economy as a whole-nor conceivably can it be more successful. In this, we all face a notoriously uncertain future.


  1. SNAP 69-72: Another Chance for Cities: (1973). Shelter.
  2. A bidding system for special purpose finance may seem in conflict with principles of local autonomy. But such autonomy solves nothing if authorities face reducing resources and growing demands for expensive services from those least able to pay. The rate support grant concept may be satisfactory for most routine functions but special purpose funding is appropriate for priority tasks of urban and regional regeneration. As some proportion of total RSG, Government should not be content to limit its influence to making money available. But it is important to note that the bidding system depends on prior initiative by authorities. Where there are recalcitrant authorities their co-operation can only be made effective through the operation of a clearly denned strategic fund. For example, adequate housing opportunities in outer London boroughs, and so on.
  3. The SNAP Report set out a model submission for one area of deprivation, welding together programmes of health, housing, employment and education. Emphasis on formal management procedures suited the organisational development of Liverpool in 1971, but any number of models were possible.
  4. Co-ordination of bids for supplementary expenditure within regions was a rationalisation of Whitehall procedures which did not raise any constitutional issues. However, we did propose a 'consultative council' at regional level to consider annual allocations solely for the urban programme within a rolling five year plan.
  5. Regional development programmes have lacked political definition. In the absence of such definition, an unstructured proliferation of special measures in cities and random distribution of largess elsewhere continues to pose basic problems of control and accountability both internally and within the EEC.
  6. The urban programme not only linked relevant priority action by authorities but promised better guarantees for continuity in implicit public expenditure. At present, the forward planning of capital programmes is difficult and sometimes impossible, whether or not these are priority expenditure for urban recovery.
  7. The development plan system is the principal statutory basis for development control and it will attempt to resolve this important function with quite separate aspects of public policy in a flexible way. But, demonstrably, the planning system is not the vehicle for decision-making by authorities or central spending departments and, arguably, it can never be. The development plan system will collect background information, improving the basis of strategic choice. The diagnostic capacities of the GLC and Counties can be fully utilised in a strategic programme combining selective policies for those priority areas first determined by boroughs or districts.
  8. Promoting a national programme on a pilot basis, SNAP emphasised that pilot studies themselves were only a complement to inter-departmental staff work at Whitehall. DoE were unable to agree that an interdepartmental approach was essential or that the problems of the 'inner city' should be considered in a wider context. The pace of progress effectively depended on consultants as outside contractors. Subsequently, the a priori case for an inter-departmental approach led to the 'urban deprivation' study by the Home Office. However, SNAP's recommendations had pointed to a complete involvement in all of DoE's main areas of concern.
  9. For example, in local government finance, the traditional stance has been to maintain certain standards of services without either putting too great a burden on ratepayers or giving authorities an unfair slice of the national cake. A positive dialogue on how authorities could participate in making that national cake bigger is outside the philosophy of local government finance at present. In the rate support grant, any positive relationship with renewing the economic environment of authorities to improve real incomes to buy services hardly exists.
  10. Home Office Press Notice: 18th July 1974. (See also the seminar run by G. Wasserman at this conference).
  11. See Mr Freeson's comments in Hansard, 25th July 1974. The SNAP experience argued for a much wider concept of priority action in housing policy than the initial general improvement areas. It seemed necessary to avoid further proliferation of measures for even smaller areas than GIAs, allowing and encouraging more discretion by authorities in working out more sensitive and gradual urban renewal which could relate to complementary action elsewhere. DoE's most recent interest in some new form of 'environmental grant' may pull the various Whitehall initiatives together. But it will still be necessary to place any such innovations in a strategic context.
  12. Hansard: Mr. Freeson: 25th July 1974.



The first questioner posed two issues on house improvement. Firstly, he wondered if Peter Norman might expand on the difficult problems raised when, inevitably, in a slum improvement area, a few householders had invested some capital and some dwellings were therefore more desirable than others. Dr. Norman expressed concern for areas of mixed housing stock, stressing that, in current procedures, no opportunity was provided which allowed the issue to be debated, nor could support be organised for a minority point of view where house improvement might be preferred to compulsory purchase and redevelopment. Since the mid 1950s, a procedure existed which reduced discussion, but we were now moving into a context in which, particularly in house improvement matters, the local authority were looking for sources of initiative and support for house improvement policies in which the ability to conduct a debate with City Hall, to argue a case and to draw on a pool of experience for dealing with bureaucracy was going to be extremely important in the implementation of the whole plan. But the process as conducted so far had never provided that sort of political education or a forum for debate, and therefore had increased alienation to an unnecessary level.


Secondly, where private landlords were not willing to carry out improvements, what in the experience of Chris Holmes, were the reasons for this reluctance? Chris Holmes reminded delegates that private landlords were mainly small, elderly and often immigrant and he put forward four reasons why they did not improve houses:

  1. Lack of any financial or tax incentive.
  2. Lack of knowledge on how to do it - how to organise an improvement grant, get planning permission, organise builders to do the job efficiently, etc.
  3. Lack of rehousing resources - it was almost impossible to find temporary or permanent accommodation for people displaced as a result of improvement.
  4. Lack of will - no real interest because of the trouble involved in getting a house improved for the benefit of tenants.

In practice only one reason may be found, but also in practice very few private landlords had shown any inclination to try and improve their properties at all.


Ann McEwan (SAUS - Bristol) focussed on the small shopkeeper, the small manufacturer and the workshop, and asked what part local authorities should play in helping them. Des McConaghy said their treatment was symptomatic of how local and national government tended to stifle initiative and creativity in people. It was impossible to overestimate the importance of trying to channel this type of initiative in a more creative way. For example, in areas of low employment we must devise a more sensitive approach which would be compatible with the broad and sometimes contradictory instruments which the Department of Trade and Industry necessarily have to deploy across all the urban regions. The feasibility of having this level of involvement must be demonstrated to Whitehall.


James Stevens Curl (European Architectural Heritage Year) commented on the economic base of cities, how fiscal policies affected urban dereliction and how, in inner cities, large areas of open and derelict land existed and yet councils were still arguing for an extension of their boundaries. On the last point, Peter Norman replied that, while the city had substantial areas of unused land at the centre many cities were also having problems in letting housing in peripheral schemes. What was local government to do with inner city sites in a context where pressure for a sustained level of building was likely to decline? (Particularly while population projections were being scaled downwards, and migration scaled upwards.) In peripheral housing schemes, there were also an increasing number of relets (and an increasing proportion of relets on the total stock) and problems of increasing dissatisfaction with peripheral housing schemes which nevertheless were relatively new, substantial in numbers, and had not served their useful life. Looking over a 10 year perspective in such a context it seemed likely that the argument to expand cities' boundaries was likely to relate more to the ease of developing greenfield sites than to absolute pressures on the total land area.

Professor Cameron (Glasgow University) suggested that Des Mc-Conaghy was asking for a massive reallocation of resources towards the major urban centres, particularly the inner areas. He was unsure what criteria were being used to justify this reallocation. He asked 'what evidence do we have that our inner areas are getting worse in welfare terms?' So far, especially in London, the evidence did not bear this out, particularly in terms of income growth, unemployment or activity rates. There was much substance in Des McConaghy's point that it might well be at the detailed or micro level that localised unemployment, localised collapsed activity rates or a collapsed employment base should be dealt with. But if we had not really got good criteria, were we sure that there should not be a reallocation of resources from central to peripheral areas? Professor Cameron also asked, 'do we have to have policies that are area-based or should we have policies that are area/people based?' There seemed, he said, to be an assumption in Des McConaghy's paper that we had to recreate the economic base of the inner city. Even if this were accepted and recognised as a problem, we must still question the nature of the solution offered.


Finally, Professor Cameron asked Dr. Norman 'Why is it that the outer areas in Glasgow are so unattractive? Why is it that their rates of quit and eviction are rising? Do we have any way of seeing whether it is policy that has not been operative in overcoming the problems? Unless we have that, and unless we know something of the costs and benefits of alternative strategies, then we really are in no man's land'.


The three speakers were asked to combine their answers to the Professor with their general summing up.


Des McConaghy commenced by referring to 'area' or 'people' types of redistribution. The two, he argued, were complementary, although they were operated through different legislation and had different Exchequer and political significance. Here, we were concerned with areas, and he indicated that central government discriminated through the RSG formula in the £6,000 million spent by authorities in areas, and government also discriminated by directing £600 million to areas smaller than local authorities through highly selective measures. It was in the latter area that he was asking for rationalisation. He gave some statistics from the 1971 Census (at ED level) which illustrated the point that there were severe pockets of deprivation in London, Clydeside and Merseyside.


No. of Enumeration Districts (1971 Census)

  More than 10 %
More than 15 %
male unemployment
Clydeside 1670 1012
Merseyside 66 393
GLC 1122 147


From initial analysis this may be worse than in 1966. Such figures suggested a concentration of pockets of overcrowding and unemployment and such pockets of deprivation had to be treated on an area basis. 'For example, in the GLC area, of the 147 EDs, with more than 15% male unemployment, 104 were in the Inner London boroughs. Again, within these, there were much worse areas, although regional policies and grants are geared to London's overall buoyant employment situation.'


As to why government should be trying to renew the economic base of inner cities, he argued that this held the key not only to people's poverty but to institutional poverty. City centres were becoming economically unviable. Local government finance had not worked in this respect, had not focussed subsidies on this area, and thus had not allowed for any structured improvement in the economy of inner areas.


Peter Norman addressed himself to the outer areas question. He did not know, and certainly not in anything like the degree of detail necessary, people's views on their lives in an inner city area. The balance of interest was indicated since the early papers given at the Conference ignored the problems emerging in cities such as Glasgow, where the Corporation is the dominant landlord and property owner. He argued that, in looking some years ahead, the current stress on the inner areas as the principal location for the problems of multiple deprivation might have to be refocussed. Perhaps the sphere within which the discussions of social problems in planning was located was wrong. Certainly it seemed so in cities in Scotland. There had been some work of a speculative kind on the consequences of the outlying housing schemes. However, at this stage, there was not sufficient data to be able to relate (in any sensitive terms) changes in the whole housing market context which related the increasing stock of intolerable houses to the decline in population, changes in aspirations, the ageing of the stock itself or the changing fashion of central city versus suburban location. Until that kind of data was available, all we knew was the clear indicators of the problems - the increasing numbers and proportions of relets, the increasing numbers wanting to transfer out of outlying schemes and the attendant management problems which persisted despite the liberalisation of house letting regulations.


Chris Holmes illustrated the economic base aspect by referring to one of the most deprived areas in Coventry, Hillfields. Here, the causes of the problem had been shown by the Community Development Project to stem from the whole structure of the motor industry in the West Midlands. This industry needed a pool of semi and unskilled labour which it used in times of high economic demand and laid off when demand was slack. These people, on low and unstable incomes, were concentrated in areas of the worst housing, without amenities and with a poor environment. He felt that simply talking about renewing the economic base of traditionally run-down areas such as Merseyside or Clyde-side failed to recognise that the same problems of inequality and poor housing exist in areas such as the West Midlands - areas which do have a very strong economic base.


Taking the issue in a wider context, Chris Holmes suggested that Des McConaghy 'was not being radical enough'. It was true that it was not possible to redress poverty by local solutions, by changing housing policy in areas such as Upper Holloway, by forming a cooperative, by community groups pressing for change, although he indicated that there were forces creating some kind of movement for radical solutions. But it seemed to him that Des McConaghy was offering a bureaucratic solution to the problem. Of course, key sector money was needed for deprived areas, co-ordinated action at central government level was needed, corporate management was needed - but even if we had all those things, unless we had fundamental structural changes in the distribution of power, wealth, or ownership within our society (which creates inequalities in Coventry as much as in Glasgow), he did not believe that there was any possibility of actually redressing the diminishing opportunities that are being faced by poor people in all those areas. He suggested that the implication of what Des McConaghy said was that if we actually took up his recommendations, this would create a good solution, but Chris Holmes wondered whether he was not actually confusing us by suggesting a scheme that was not radical enough.



Housing - Social service or social engineering?

Jim Amos


THE quality of United Kingdom housing stock has been regarded as a serious social problem at least since 1947. As a result, a major portion of the nation's resources has been devoted to housing. In the more recent and bleak economic climate, it seems unlikely that past rates of building and/or improvements can be sustained, and it therefore becomes critically important to examine whether the priority accorded to housing has been appropriate and whether past and present policies were well founded. As a background to this examination, it is worth looking at past trends in housing supply.


Since 1951 in the United Kingdom, 1,508,000 slum dwellings have been demolished, and 7,115,000 dwellings have been built. This represents nearly a 14 per cent, increase in the housing stock, and a considerable raising of the average quality of the housing. However, by the same process, it has raised the threshold of acceptability so that much of the current stock is now regarded as being due for demolition or improvement.


Figures are not available nationally but a pilot investigation reveals that, out of the total dwelling stock in 1961, up to 40 per cent, was considered of slum standard: and that although 16 per cent, of the 1961 stock of dwellings was cleared by 1971 the number due for clearance and improvement was still at the 40 per cent, level.


In a society of rising material standards it is not surprising that the rate of obsolescence of housing should increase, but in a period of rising standards one would expect the housing replacement rate to outstrip the rate of obsolescence. In practice this has not occurred. Having regard to the enlarged stock of dwellings, the constant percentage represents an absolute increase in the number of substandard dwellings.


The apparently slow progress in reducing the proportion of obsolescent housing might be regarded as a matter of little consequence in the light of a 35.7 per cent, increase in total housing stock between 1951 and 1971. However, population changes have largely counterbalanced the effects of an enlarged housing stock. In the same period, total.


Jim Amos is Chief Executive, Birmingham Metropolitan District Council.


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