Spatial Policy and Analysis Laboratory research is having real-world impact across sectors.

Our ongoing projects cover a range of urban and regional policy initiatives, including territorial spatial planning, spatial analysis and public participation.

The diversity of the work and the range of topics represented is indicative of the team's strong inter-disciplinary relationships. If you would like more information on any of the projects, please feel free to contact the relevant researcher.

Decarbonising transport with neighbourhood plans in Northern England

This project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), explores how bottom-up community initiatives can support the decarbonisation agenda by reducing the need for car journeys, providing residents with viable options for sustainable transport, influencing land use policy, and providing change behaviour incentives at the neighbourhood level.

Creating inclusive urban spaces in uncertain global times

This exchange grant on Urban dialogues was funded by the British Academy Newton Fund.

Stephen Hincks (Planning and Environmental Management) is the Co-Investigator of the project, working with Sarah Ayres of the University of Bristol and John Harrison of Loughborough University.

Eco-Urbanisation: Promoting Sustainable Development in Metropolitan Regions of China

This three year ESRC-NSFC Newton Fund Collaborative Research project started in January 2016, in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (led by Prof. Xiangzheng Deng) and Fudan University.

This major collaborative project has a joint budget of just under £1 million.

The University of Manchester project team includes Cecilia Wong, Mark Baker, Adam Barker, Nuno Pinto, Richard Kingston, Miao Qiao, Somayeh Taheri, and Andreas Schulze Baing.

Green Growth: Increasing the Resilience of Cities through the Delivery of Green Infrastructure Based Solutions

This 18-month project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Adam Barker is a key researcher on this project, along with James Rothwell, Gareth Clay (Geography) and Sarah Payne at Sheffield University.

The first output from this project is now available in PDF format and is entitled “Understanding Green Infrastructure at Different Scales: A Signposting Guide”.  This publication is freely available and is intended to offer built environment professionals a simple guide to the various environmental, social and economic benefits that can be accrued from GI provisions at micro, meso and macro scales.

Green Infrastructure and the Health and Wellbeing Influences on an Ageing Population (GHIA)

This major three year project, funded by NERC, began in August 2016 and involves collaboration across the university.

Green infrastructure, including blue (water-based) and green public space, can directly and indirectly influence health and wellbeing.

However, access to health and wellbeing benefits is not shared equally amongst the population, particularly in urban areas. People aged 65 and over are most likely to suffer from poor health, yet this group may be the least likely to benefit from green infrastructure (GI).

Through the GHIA project, researchers with a range of academic specialisms work with project partners from Greater Manchester to investigate the value of urban GI in connection with the health and wellbeing of older people.

The project aims to understand the benefits and values of urban GI for older people and how GI attributes, interventions and specific ‘greening projects’ can be best used to support healthy ageing in urban areas.

This includes consideration of how GI can be designed, enhanced, managed and promoted to support its use as part of preventative and restorative therapies and other health and wellbeing related activities. Older people are involved as co-producers of the research to better understand thoughts, experiences and values that are associated with green and blue spaces. 

Sarah Lindley (Geography) and Adam Baker and Anna Gilchrist (Planning and Environmental Management) are involved in this research.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Climate Just Legacy Project

This is a one year project to develop an online information tool designed to help with the delivery of equitable responses to climate change at the local level. Its main focus is to assist the development of socially just responses to the impacts of extreme events, such as flooding and heatwaves, as well as supporting wider climate change adaptation. It also includes issues related to fuel poverty and carbon emissions.

Migration, Urbanisation and Governance in China

This three year project, funded by The University of Manchester's Hallsworth Research Fund in Chinese Political Economy, started in July 2016.

Key researchers include Cecilia Wong, Yaojun Li (CMIST), Mark Baker and Yinxuan Huang.

Planning support systems

While our researchers make use of a range of advanced analytical methods, particularly using geographical information systems, many of these techniques can be difficult to apply by policymakers. Recently a number of bespoke software applications have been developed which can be easily used by policy makers to assess the impact of different policy scenarios. Through the work of Richard Kingston, SPAG also has extensive expertise in the  development and use of ICTs to enhance the planning and regeneration process particularly through the use of innovative Public Participation GIS.

Spatial micro simulation is a technique which is increasingly being used in the analysis of spatial data. The Micro-simulation Modelling and Predictive Policy Analysis System (Micro-MaPPAS) has been developed to analyse  data at varying spatial scales on a quarterly basis and can model socioeconomic scenarios up to 20 years in the future. The system works using census type data and other more frequently collected survey data with a geographical attribute.

The use of GIS to enhance public involvement and participation in environmental planning and decision making processes has led to the development of PPGIS. The main objective here is based on the belief that by providing citizens with access to information and data in the form of maps and visualisations they can make better informed decisions about the natural and built environment around them. Recent work in this area has developed systems to model future urban forms utilising digital communications to enhance citizen participation and provide support systems for decision-making through the EU IntelCities project.

Further reference

  • Ballas D, Kingston R, Stillwell J and Jin J (in press) Building a spatial micro simulation based planning support system for local policy making, Environment and Planning A.
  • Kingston R (2002) Web Based PPGIS in the UK. In W. Craig (ed.) Community Empowerment, Public Participation and Geographic Information Science. Taylor & Francis, pp. 101-112.

RESIN – Climate Resilient Cities and Infrastructures

This project started in 2015, is scheduled to last 3.5 years and is funded by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 Programme.

It aims to develop standardised methodologies for vulnerability assessments, performance evaluations of adaptation measures, and decision support tools for climate change.

The University of Manchester team includes Jeremy Carter, Angela Connelly, Stephen Hincks, Somayeh Taheri, Andy Karvonen, and John Handley.

Soft spaces in European planning

This project is funded by the Hamburg Science Foundation and led by HafenCity University, Hamburg, with partners from Sorbonne (Paris), TU Delft, Cambridge University, and The University of Manchester.

The term ‘soft spaces and fuzzy boundaries’ was introduced to the planning literature in 2008-2010 by Prof Graham Haughton (Manchester) and Prof Phil Allmendinger, with considerable work since then being devoted to exploring the validity and usefulness of the concept in a variety of mainly European contexts. It has been widely used for instance to help understand the emergence of EU territorial planning initiatives such as the Baltic Region, and in a more local context the growing work on UK city-regional planning even in areas such as Manchester that lack a statutory mandate for pursuing such work.

Soft spaces in this context are seen as the emerging proliferation of scales of planning which are not directly part of the formal statutory system, but which increasingly seem to inform it. This particular study aims to further methodological thinking and to develop a methodology for studying the intersection of statutory and non-statutory governance systems for planning. A key aspect of this involves developing a comparative approach.

The project involves two case studies for each of the four nations, one each of a border region and a second city region. In the case of the English case study, The University of Manchester is looking at the Mersey belt region between Manchester and Liverpool and Cambridge University looking at Ashford in Kent in the context of the issues involving Anglo-French cooperation initiatives.

The Manchester team involves Graham Haughton, Stephen Hincks, Iain Deas and Nicola Headlam. We are aiming to interview over 20 key actors in the Mersey belt over the period 2012-2013.

A joint book looking at the international comparative aspects of this work is expected in 2014 and other articles are also expected based on the Manchester work.

TellUs Toolkit

The TellUs Toolkit is an overarching spatial digital platform which allows citizens (or nominated user group/s) to connect to and interact with a variety of spatially referenced data and content using online Geographical Information Systems (GIS).    

The overall aim of the project is to develop and test an applied Multi-Criteria-Evaluation (MCE) Spatial Decision Support System (SDSS) methodology for utility network constraint mapping using a case study approach.

The principal objectives of the tool are to:

  • Develop a method and create a model to identify limitations of the electrical distribution network (constraints or restrictions)
  • Develop a method and create a model to identify solutions to the limitations of the electrical distribution network
  • Using an online GIS environment we will develop a system which is user friendly allowing different factors and constraints to be manipulated
  • Quickly display the models and interrogate them through an intuitive GIS map interface and add other datasets as they become available

This project is funded through a partnership between The University of Manchester Intellectual Property Energy Innovation Fund and Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution.

The Co-Managed Energy Innovation Fund has been created to identify and develop novel research and technologies for commercialisation and utilisation by the distribution and transmission industry to improve delivery of electricity to customers.

Transformational infrastructure

This project is funded by the N8 Social Science Research Programme and is led by Professor Cecilia Wong in partnership with colleagues at the universities of Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, and Sheffield.

The publication of the National Infrastructure Plan by the Treasury in 2010 acknowledges the need for major infrastructure investment, both new and replacement, to achieve sustainable and balance growth economically and environmentally. More importantly, there is a commitment from the government and other key stakeholders to develop a more strategic approach towards infrastructure planning. The impacts of these policies and the wider shifts in infrastructure – physical and electronic - will have massive impacts across the North’s functional economies.

The aim of the research is to map out the transitional pathways for the North. A scoping conference was held in February with some of the North’s leading researchers, infrastructure providers and policymakers. The outcome of the conference is the development of a research programme that focuses on addressing the pressing issues of:

  • Risk and uncertainty management and measurement
  • Institutional and strategic planning and coordination
  • Optimise the provision of infrastructure: core and peripheral areas
  • Examination of case study sectors and areas

The research will aim to help to develop better understanding of how infrastructure can be delivered in different ways (options and scenarios) to positively transform the economic, environmental and social outlook of the northern regions.

Transportation and the socio-spatial dimensions of travel to work flows

This 18-month project commenced in March 2015. Funded by the ESRC it aims to understand the socio-spatial dimensions of travel-to-work flows based on Census information that will inform transport policy and investment decision-making.

The project developed a new geo-demographic classification of commuting flows for England and Wales based on origin-destination data from the 2011 Census.

The research team includes Richard Kingston, Stephen Hincks, Cecilia Wong, Brian Webb and Andreas Schulze Bäing.

The institutional dynamics of urban greening

Assessing the role of private developers in green infrastructure provision.

Recent urban green space policy in the UK has shifted from an emphasis on the amenity benefits of isolated provisions to a wider emphasis on the numerous benefits afforded by multifunctional and integrated approaches. To a large extent, the shift in approach has been driven by combined concerns over urban compaction and climate change impacts. In contrast to initiatives elsewhere, the emergence of the Green Infrastructure (GI) agenda within the UK has been firmly aligned with mainstream economic development goals.

Whilst in the South of England this has been asserted through the new growth strategy of the Thames Gateway, in the North the emphasis has been placed on integration through regeneration policy. In the North West for example, the economic potential of GI had been further promoted by the inclusion of a GI strategy within the plans emerging from sub regional economic partnerships and the work undertaken by Natural Economy North West on quantifying the economic benefits of Green Infrastructure investment. To date however, examples of combined practice are limited. Whilst the potential response of private developers to policy shifts favouring private sector led GI provision is largely unknown, recent research (Payne 2009) has revealed a distinct resistance to change by speculative house builders in response to public policy initiatives seeking to influence organisational behaviour.

Further, previous research has, to a large extent, neglected to fully explore the behavioural attitudes and operations of speculative house builders towards implementing greater environmental performance. However, as recent research findings reveal that the public are willing to pay more for greener urban spaces (Henneberry 2011), it is possible that private developers might foresee an economic incentive to increase the proportion of green space within new home developments. With this in mind, this study aims to 'develop a conceptual basis for understanding institutional capacity in urban greening and apply this to an empirical investigation into the potential impact of developer attitudes and behaviour upon green infrastructure delivery.