Remember this line-up? The Urban Task Force gave the red card to low-density suburban sprawl and switched play to brownfield sites. Five years on, we reassembled the team for an anniversary kick-about.
In June 1999, Barcelona and The Hague were officially declared the model for Britain's down-at-heel cities. Lord Rogers and his Urban Task Force published their landmark report, Towards an Urban Renaissance, a watershed in thinking on urban development. About 100 proposals provided a plan for government action, and a route map for industry to follow. To find out how government, industry and our towns and cities have fared since, we asked the original members to comment on today's state of play.

Lord Rogers
1999: As taskforce chairman, Rogers spread his vision of design-led, sustainable cities
2004: A seat in the House of Lords offered continued scope to influence government policy.

This government has done more to promote cities, and especially compact cities, than any other. It was right in setting a minimum target for 60% of new homes to be built on brownfield land.

The sustainable communities plan is a step forward because it promotes the principle of building communities, not just quantities of housing, but there is the potential for conflict when the government talks of greenfield expansion areas around selected towns. We need to make it even more attractive to developers to build on brownfield rather than greenfield land.

I am still hoping for equalisation of VAT on new build and refurbishment.

Jon Rouse
1999: Five years ago Rouse was secretary to the taskforce, and was working for English Partnerships
2004: Rouse has just left CABE to take up the chief executive's job at the Housing Corporation.

I'd say the government has done reasonably well. I looked through the report last year and worked out that about half the recommendations had been implemented. The report has had stronger buy-in from the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, now the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, than from other departments. John Prescott has really championed it.

There has been success on the design side: a lot of what's in Chapter Two, "Making towns and cities work" is now embedded in government policy. Public space is taken more seriously now. On the planning side there have been successes – we've recently seen the release of government-owned land – and there have been wins on the finance side, with recommendations such as reduced stamp duty on deprived areas and Real Estate Investment Trusts.

The negatives include transport, where we've not seen the sea change that we require. The other area that has not done as well as we'd hoped is skills. Sir John Egan has just spent another year looking at that issue.

The biggest challenge is defending what we've got. We're reliant on the ODPM to hold this together. There is a danger that the work could be undone.

Alan Cherry
1999 and 2004: Alan Cherry was and remains chairman of housebuilder Countryside Properties, and is now a player in the country's biggest regeneration challenge, the development of the Thames Gateway.

The overriding outcome of the report was that it made central government, local authorities, regional development agencies and other agencies very mindful of the importance of urban regeneration. The private sector has only just begun to get into its stride. Since the report was published, there have been a lot of conferences about urban regeneration, and there are now a lot of experts around, but there still aren't a lot of doers. Now 83% of what our company does is on urban recycled land – we've changed tremendously.

The number of agencies now involved in regeneration is causing a bit of confusion, especially in the Thames Gateway. We'll work with anyone as long as it helps to deliver, but there is a multiplicity of agencies in the Gateway.

I got a copy of the report out just last week.

I still refer to it and quote from it when I'm making speeches. I think it's still a good set of guidelines. It is helpful to remind people like planning authorities of the good intentions of the report.

Transport infrastructure remains one of the major issues. In the Thames Gateway at least everyone is aware that without transport infrastructure, regeneration won't be successful and won't attract private investment.

Martin Crookston
1999 and 2004: Crookston was and still is a director at planning consultant Llewelyn-Davies, where he is directly influencing the urban renaissance with the masterplanning of projects like Newcastle's Walker Riverside.

I was the Llewelyn-Davies person on the taskforce because I'd been working on areas that were integral to the report, like housing density, urban capacity, and taking a structured approach to brownfield development. It has turned out to be the section of the report where just about everything that was proposed that could be done, has been done. That's a big success. Even people who don't agree with the taskforce report can see that.

Design has been carried forward, notably by CABE. The industry recognises that the design agenda is there and they've got to pay heed to it.

The big failure is transport. That is painful. It is one of the government's taskforces that has had a lot of profile, and that is a tribute to John Prescott in recognising the need to appoint a star like Richard Rogers to lead it. People still think they have to take notice of it and still quote bits of it. We have to watch it at Llewelyn-Davies because if we recommend anything that is out of step with the report, people come back and wave the yellow book at us.

Although it's been Prescott's baby, it is a shame that the report never really got through to Tony Blair. I suspect that Blair saw the regeneration of towns and cities as a bit of a problem, while we saw those towns and cities as Britain's big opportunities. Looking back that's a big disappointment.

Anne Power
1999 and 2004: Anne Power is professor of social housing at the London School of Economics.

Overall, the government is trying. It has pushed very hard to increase housing density. It is still too low, but it is going up fast. It has also pushed hard to generate mixed income communities. The government is sticking with cities and brownfield regeneration, but it is so worried about the issue of housing supply that it is in danger of dumping policies. There's an obvious tension there. It hasn't done well enough on energy efficiency and those aspects of building design. But it has done a lot to get in place neighbourhood management, although delivery of that is unbelievably difficult and a slow process.

The report has had a lasting impact. It is constantly referred to and is stronger than anything that has come out since. The sustainable communities plan doesn't try to undermine it, but de facto there's an indirect undermining. The communities plan actually isn't that good on urban issues.

Cities are doing a lot better than they were. The image of cities has improved, although there is still a lot of work to be done. We still have to make our inner city neighbourhoods liveable. We have to make it so that average people – not the very rich or the very poor but the averagely well-off – want to live in our cities.

Tony Burton
1999: Assistant director (policy) at the CPRE
2004: Burton is now head of policy at the National Trust.

Following publication of the report there was an immediate flurry of activity and important progress over the first couple of years with the White Paper endorsing the vision, and fiscal measures in the Budget. It had a lasting impact, which you can see in professional relationships. It is now part of people's job titles.

There have been successes in terms of fiscal measures, early planning measures, and in highlighting the importance of skills as one of the reasons we failed to deliver in the past. It may be slow progress, but that message is starting to sink in. If you ask me what I'm proudest of contributing to the report, it would be the message that the renaissance should affect every street and every town. We moved the debate away from the big towns and cities.

The biggest disappointment is that the centre of attention has moved away from urban regeneration to sustainable communities, with a very different agenda and the potential for greenfield development in growth areas. Prescott's focus has moved on. In political terms the sustainable communities plan has taken over from the Urban Task Force report. But on a day-to-day ground level it hasn't: the work of local communities, regional development agencies and so on, goes on.

It was worth the pain and the effort. It paid dividends, but any process needs the conscience to be written into the system. We had hoped the urban summit would be the checking mechanism to do that, and the first one did to a degree. But it has been too easy for the government to move on.

Phil Kirby
1999: Environment director, BG Properties
2004: Managing director of Second Site Property, the organisation responsible for managing and developing National Grid Transco's portfolio of contaminated land.

I'm amazed that so much of the report has been taken up. If you look at our city centres, at the time of the report they were becoming increasingly empty and increasingly violent: now they are becoming much more vibrant places.

A lot of that has been down to getting more density. But more recently, the government has put itself under a lot of pressure with additional aspirations that were not part of the taskforce report, like the housebuilding targets.

Like all members of the taskforce, I was there for particular expertise, and in my case it was the brownfield sites issue. A lot of things have been achieved in that area: for example, we now have research groups identifying the risks in contaminated land and we have land condition records. Unfortunately, since the report was published a new problem has arisen in the European Landfill Directive which comes into force on 16 July and threatens to drive up the cost of tipping and of regenerating brownfield sites.

Being on the taskforce widened my view. In my sector of the industry there's a tendency to concentrate on the physical rather than the social aspects of regeneration.

Sir Crispin Tickell
1999: Chairman of the government panel on sustainable development
2004: A month ago, Tickell was a participant in the "diplomats' revolt" when 52 former diplomats who wrote to Tony Blair criticising the government's support for the US stance on Iraq and Israel. Tickell is chancellor of the University of Kent at Canterbury.

Sir Crispin Tickell says that he has not kept up to date with the progress of the report, but his general impression is that "it's a mixed picture". "There's great disappointment that the government has done so little. I sat on another taskforce [on hazardous Near Earth Objects], and that too has achieved little," he says.

Who were the other members of the Urban Task Force?

Ricky Burdett
1999: Director of the cities programme at the London School of Economics
2004: Burdett is still running the programme at the LSE, but is now also working with Lord Rogers as a consultant to the GLA’s architecture and urbanism unit.

Anthony Dunnett
1999: Chief executive of South East of England Development Agency
2004: Dunnett gave up the top job at SEEDA last December to set up a business providing medical supplies to the third world.

Sir Peter Hall
1999 and 2004: Bartlett professor of planning at University College, London. David Lunts
1999: Chief executive of The Prince’s Foundation
2004: As director of urban policy at the ODPM, Lunts now plays a part in implementing the proposals of the taskforce.

Anthony Mayer
1999: Chief executive of the Housing Corporation
2004: In the year following publication of the taskforce report, Mayer became the first chief executive of the Greater London Authority.

Wendy Thomson
1999: Chief executive of Newham council in east London
2004: Like Lunts, Thomson has become a government insider; she is now Whitehall’s adviser on public services reform and is director of the Office of Public Services Reform.

Lorna Walker
1999: Director, Arup
2004: retired.

Five years on: What happened to the Urban Task Force’s proposals …

We can’t give you a match report on all of the proposals, but here’s how six of them turned out:
  • High on density: Revise planning and funding guidance to discourage councils from using density and over-development as reasons for refusing planning permission; create a presumption within the planning system against excessively low density urban development; and provide advice on use of density standards linked to design quality.

    What happened: PPG3 has established higher housing density levels and there has been a wealth of accompanying guidance on how to achieve design quality. At a local planning authority level, however, over-development is still used as grounds to refuse some planning applications.

  • Downtown living: Produce dedicated PPGs to support the urban renaissance. Policies should be implemented in regional planning guidance, local development plans and planning decisions. Local communities should be fully involved.

    What happened: Draft PPS6 is unequivocal in promoting land in city and town centres for land uses with a catchment area that attracts large numbers of visitors, such as large department stores. But this policy probably has more to do with reducing car trips to out-of-town locations on sustainability grounds rather than economic reasons.

  • Quick agreements: Establish a fast-track independent arbitration to conclude section 106 agreements. The process could be triggered by either party after a set period at their cost. (The taskforce suggested implementation by 2001.)

    What happened: This hasn’t happened yet, although a number of local authorities with urban regeneration companies operating within their jurisdiction are attempting to put in place more transparent section 106 policies to encourage development.

  • Tax on land: Prepare a scheme for taxing vacant land that does not penalise genuine developers, but deters owners from holding onto land unnecessarily.

    What happened: This idea has not made any progress.

  • Back to VAT: Harmonise VAT rates at a zero rate in respect of new building and conversions and refurbishments.

    What happened: The fact that new homes are zero rated whereas repair, maintenance and improvement works are subject to 17.5% VAT is an anomaly that has been debated since the publication of the report. Most recently, it was picked up by the Barker report. The general conclusion has been that the Treasury would only find it acceptable to harmonise the two rates by adding VAT to new build. However, the repair and maintenance rate could also be reduced. No action has been taken.

  • Cash gap: Introduce a financial instrument for attracting institutional investment into the residential private rented market (Budget 2001).

    What happened: The Treasury is now consulting with the industry over the introduction of residential property investment funds.

    The results were assessed with the help of Chris Quinsee and Nora Galley of planning consultant Roger Tym & Partners.