Neoliberalism and sustainable urban water sectors: A critical reflection of sector characteristics and empirical evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Urban water sectors in industrialised countries are increasingly facing a diverse range of challenges. Aging assets, environmental concerns and economic issues put pressure on the current governance and organisation of these sectors. In recent years, a plethora of neoliberal reforms have been initiated in various countries as efforts to counteract these developments. While rather successful in infrastructure sectors, such as energy or telecommunication, neoliberal reforms have proven difficult in many industrialised, urban water sectors. The article argues that this is related to distinct characteristics of the water sectors. Specificities include large-scale technologies, high externalities and the nature of the good. This article analyses these key characteristics of urban water sectors and shows their implications and challenges for neoliberal reforms by drawing on the privatisation of the English water sectors. The results show key trade-offs between economic and environmental issues, and less with social goals.


External organisations
  • Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economics and Business


  • neoliberalism, sustainable urban water, sustainability analysis, water characteristics, industrialised countries
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1540-1555
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Government and Policy
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication categoryResearch