What is it about?

This article recovers the life and works of Des McConaghy (1931–2017), pioneer of expenditure-based planning for urban regeneration in the United Kingdom. Drawing on his experiences in Craigavon New Town, as director of the Shelter Neighbourhood Action Project in Liverpool, special advisor in the Department of the Environment and director of the Area Information Service, he developed an incisive critique of over-centralisation in the UK state. Instead, he proposed a novel form of two-tier fiscal programming, embedded in a local–central political framework, to drive forward concerted whole-of-government activity in targeted areas, restoring transparency, accountability and trust to the vexed question of reviving the great cities.

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Why is it important?

This article uses primary documents recently archived in Liverpool City Record Office to cast new light on the formation of urban policy making in the 1970s and 1980s. It casts light on the (unjustly) neglected contribution of Des McConaghy to the financial definition of regeneration objectives. Finally, the article demonstrates the intellectual underpinnings of McConaghy's approach, which include cybernetics and the theory of requisite variety.


It has been a pleasure to write about an individual I have known for nearly fifty years. He lectured to my town planning graduate class, accompanied us on a field trip to Portugal (one of his European public spending enquiries), and I was briefly employed (in 1985) on McConaghy's pioneering public expenditure project, the Area Information Service. I kept Des up to date with local government, and he kindly critiqued my ideas on regeneration, until his death in 2017. I hope this assessment helps restore his reputation as a pioneer of democratic renewal in the British polity.

Mark Long

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: ‘To spend is to choose’: Des McConaghy and expenditure-based planning, Town Planning Review, November 2019, Liverpool University Press,
DOI: 10.3828/tpr.2019.39.
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