In several countries, urban regeneration programmes have become associated with wider policy changes to the governance and social improvement of local communities. These developments have become central to policy implementation in the UK where regeneration planning attempts to use 'social capital' from local networks and associations in new systems of governance connecting central government agencies, local councils and local voluntary and community groups. This article reports on comparative research aimed at assessing whether the new approaches significantly influence democracy and transparency and, correspondingly, responsiveness to power relations and conflicts, and the needs and interests of the previously excluded and often disadvantaged groups. The analysis derives from a contrast between Bristol, a propitious case for the new governance in the UK, and the Italian city of Naples. Similar and problematic developments are identified in both cases despite the pursuit of a radically different 'dirigiste' strategy by the Naples council. The findings suggest that more autonomous local government and greater civil society participation may still be needed to meet local expectations.