Past projects

Find out more about our completed research projects.

A framework for city regions

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister commissioned SPAG and SURF to explore the concept of city regions in order to underpin any future national policy framework for city regions. Brian Robson and Kitty Lymperopoulou developed an evidence base to give flesh to the city-region concept, looking both at national data on travel-to-work and at a variety of service-based and based-based flows in the two case study areas of Greater Manchester and Greater Bristol. This work was subsequently followed up with a commission from the North West Development Agency to explore city-region flows in the North West and West Yorkshire.

The city-region is an important functional entity. This makes them increasingly appropriate for a range of strategic issues. Travel-to-work flows identify a set of local districts that form the tributary areas for England’s major cities. For other types of flows, city ‘catchments’ are extremely wide. Flow data suggest that the geography of city-regions is fuzzy and varies depending on different functions but that, however defined, the tributary regions of the big cities are very extensive and have considerable significance for economic performance.

The economic logic for a city-regional component to policy-making has become more powerful as the economic performance of cities has become increasingly critical to their regions. The major city-regions are now the drivers of regional economies. The need for access to information and knowledge has given new salience to the agglomeration economies that big dense heterogeneous cities offer. Strong city regions are a necessary – even though not a sufficient - condition for ensuring economic growth. Both small businesses such as the cultural and creative industries and large businesses such as aerospace rely heavily on informal local networks and their supply chains draw heavily on contacts from within their city region.

For Whitehall, a more explicit policy framework for city-regions would entail government working with the emerging informal partnerships of local authorities to identify a small number of city regions which could be incentivised to develop semi statutory collaborative arrangements to enhance economic competitiveness. This recognises the ‘fuzzy’ nature of city regions and would not require formal reorganisation of local government. Moves towards formal city-regional governance structures should remain a longer-term option.

A map for England

Spatial expression of government policies and programmes.

This project is funded by the Royal Town Planning Institute and is led by Professor Cecilia Wong and carried out by Mark Baker, Stephen Hincks, Andreas Schulze Bäing and Brian Webb.

The study maps the policies and programmes of Government Departments, their agencies and non-departmental public bodies that have an explicit spatial expression to inform the discussion of spatial planning issues and priorities. It is a follow-up study to previous work carried out by the University of Manchester to establish the need for a fully integrated national spatial planning framework for the UK and to examine the UK’s spatial structure and trends of change by analysing the connectivity and interaction of areas.

The 2000 report was about establishing the policy needs and the 2006 study set out the spatial context and structure for a national spatial framework; whereas this latest study brings the two together by examining the interplay between policy needs and spatial contexts via mapping the government’s policy and programme delivery.

The study has four key components:

  • Appraisal of government policies and programmes (including government departments and their agencies and NDPBs) with an explicit spatial expression and/or spatial consequences.
  • Thematic mapping, based on the economic, social and environmental priorities set out in NPPF, of government policies and programmes that have an explicit spatial expression and/or consequences.
  • Identification of patterns of spatial synergies and conflicts arising from existing government policies and programmes and the presentation of these spatial synergies and conflicts into ‘diagrammatic maps’.
  • Highlighting of key issues and further research work required to fully address the need of providing a spatial framework to support the development of NPPF and the delivery of the Localism Act.

The report and accompanying compendium of maps can be downloaded from the Map for England webpages:

Diversifying spaces for the delivery of renewable energy infrastructure

This project is funded by The University of Manchester and is led by Dr Stephen Hincks.

In October 2010 the Coalition government published its National Infrastructure Plan. According to the Plan, a lack of strategic direction to underpin the delivery of national infrastructure priorities necessitates a new approach to infrastructure delivery to support government priorities of balanced and sustainable economic development. An aspect of this ‘new approach’ is the diversification of spaces to accommodate new infrastructure. A new funding stream has been made available to port operators located in places that have ‘assisted area status’ to promote the use of marine ports as spaces in which to deliver new wind power infrastructure.  Different spaces and their functions are understood (imagined) in different ways and are subsequently codified according to the symbolic markers, the cultural and social values and the governance arrangements that give space meaning, form and function.

In the context of this study, marine ports have traditionally been imagined, codified and developed according to their primary function as spaces to serve the shipping and cargo industries. The diversification of marine port spaces to accommodate renewable energy sector infrastructure in the National Infrastructure Plan means that marine port spaces have the potential to be re-imagined and codified in new ways. However, this re-imagination and re-codification of marine ports will create diversified and increasingly multi-functional spaces which will require new or adapted approaches to the management of ports, the coordination of new and old activities within  port authority boundaries and the balancing, through negotiation and financial arrangements, of competing stakeholder interests.

This project, then, will critically interrogate the diversification of marine port spaces to accommodate new infrastructure for the offshore wind power industry and to contribute to emerging policy debates around the delivery of offshore wind power infrastructure.

Housing and neighbourhood monitor

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has commissioned our researchers and and partners to carry out a major three-year research project to develop a UK-wide Housing and Neighbourhood Monitor (HNM). The joint research team  includes researchers from the Universities of Manchester (SPAG), Glasgow (Urban Studies) and Ulster (Built Environment). Building upon JRF’s earlier scoping reports for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, as well as the wider research on poverty, wealth creation, housing and socio-economic change, the interdisciplinary team aims to take the HNM further by identifying a set of coherent and robust indicators and developing an analytical framework that can truly reflect the changing trends and issues in relation to housing and neighbourhoods across different territories of the UK.

The project has resulted in two UK-wide reports on major housing and neighbourhood trends and policy implications as well a set of country-specific reports. The UK-wide reports raise questions about the different policy prescriptions required to address pressurised housing markets and support local neighbourhoods. There have been tensions between micro-level neighbourhood policies, such as those concerned with neighbourhood  renewal, and macro level housing policies, such as supply, with the latter often dominating. The challenge to make the appropriate connection between housing and neighbourhoods continues, suggesting the need for  more nuanced policy making that takes better account of area characteristics, notably how local housing markets function.

As there are different issues encountered in different countries, reports on country specific issues in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have also been produced. The English report highlights the importance  government places on regenerating towns and cities and delivering new housing supply by focusing on recycling previously developed (brownfield) land. The study examines the extent of brownfield regeneration through  the delivery of new housing development and its effects on housing and socio-economic change across the most deprived neighbourhoods in England. The Welsh report explores the progress that has been made in  regeneration Communities First areas in Wales (a programme launched in 2001). It compares the extent to which first-generation Communities First neighbourhoods have improved relative to other similarly deprived  neighbourhoods in Wales using key change indicators. The Scottish report focuses on An assessment of alternative ways to fund new affordable housing in Scotland at a time when public resources for housing are being significantly reduced while the Northern Ireland report examines where investment is taking place in the housing sector, during a period of crisis for the housing market. It identifies how far this investment is aligned with policy objectives relating to neighbourhood renewal and assesses whether investment is addressing the energy efficiency of dwellings.

Complementing the reports, a free interactive website has been developed by the Spatial Planning and Analysis Laboratory (formerly the Centre for Urban Policy Studies). This and all the research publications for the monitor are available on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website. The website  brings together a wide range of housing and neighbourhood trends for the whole of the UK for the first time. It provides detailed Google Maps and a series of charts, enabling users to examine a wide range of information for their locality. This includes themes such as housing supply, affordability, new build rates, educational attainment and economic activity.

Geography of housing market areas

This project was commissioned by the National Planning and Housing Advisory Unit (NHPAU). Within this project CUPS worked in collaboration with the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University and the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies at the University of Newcastle to construct a consistent geography of housing market areas for England.

The final report of the project is now available on the website of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Local development framework monitoring

In order to develop a robust and systematic approach to monitoring, the DCLG (formerly ODPM) commissioned Cecilia Wong, Mark Baker and Sue Kidd (at the University of Liverpool) to develop a monitoring framework for  the newly established Local Development Frameworks (LDF), including the preparation of annual monitoring reports.

The recent overhaul of the British planning system places a strong emphasis on developing ‘spatial’ rather than purely ‘land use’ plans, and on the importance of adopting a systematic approach towards strategy  monitoring. Monitoring is becoming an increasingly important aspect of evidence-based policy making. Previously, monitoring has been regarded as an error-correcting mechanism to bring land use plans back on track by addressing  negative feedback. In this study, the research team adopted a positive, future orientated approach to monitoring by identifying the key challenges, opportunities and possible ways forward in terms of revising and adjusting  spatial planning policies.

The findings were published as a guidance document by the ODPM. The monitoring framework introduced in this guidance is based on the latest methodological developments in the monitoring of complex spatial strategies.  Six core design components are included: the structure-performance model; the objectives-targets-indicators approach; a nested hierarchy of indicators; a framework of indicators; the use of analytical indicator bundles; and the analytical principles.

Further references

  • Wong C, Baker M and Kidd S (2005) Local Development Framework Monitoring: a good practice guide, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, London.
  • Wong C, Baker M and Kidd S (2006) 'Monitoring of Spatial Strategies: the Case of Local Development Documents in England', Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 24 (4): 533-552.
  • Baker M and Wong C (2006) 'Indicators and Strategy Monitoring: the Case of the English Regions', Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 33 (5): 661-83
  • Wong C (2006) Indicators for Urban and Regional Planning: the Interplay of Policy and Methods, RTPI Library Book Series, Routledge, London.

Measuring spatial planning outcomes

Since the changes to the planning system in 2004, there has been a new emphasis on the ‘spatial’ element of planning and on critical thinking about space and place as the basis for action or intervention. In the context  of this new spatial planning agenda, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned The University of Manchester and University of Sheffield to develop a framework within which spatial planning outcomes can be measured. SPAG members Cecilia Wong, Alasdair Rae, Mark Baker, Stephen Hincks and Richard Kingston were involved with the project.

Spatial planning aims to intervene to shape the development outcomes affecting a specific area, whether in is a region or a neighbourhood. Its policy interventions make specific assumptions about the intervention inputs, outputs and overall outcomes. These are shaped by both contextual factors (sometimes overwhelmingly so) and the effectiveness of processes of delivery and policy integration.

While there is a shared consensus that spatial planning is a place-shaping and space-mediating mechanism, it is more challenging to establish its desirable outcomes. In spite of the fact that sustainable development is seen as a unifying, long term concept, it is too holistic and vague to be easily measured. There are important inter-relations and competitive tensions between the demand for environmental protection, economic  development and social equity in both general and sector specific terms. This leads to the questions of how to, and who should, establish the relative importance of the different competing objectives of spatial planning.

A set of 20 spatial outcome indicators were identified to reflect the five key objectives of spatial planning set out in PPS1 and other key planning policy documents. These indicators were selected on the grounds that: they  are conceptually related to the objectives of planning policies, though changes in these indicators can be attributed to a wide range of factors, many of which are beyond the remit of spatial planning; and they are proxy  measures of different dimensions of the identified planning objectives. More importantly, they have been rigorously appraised by a set of criteria in terms of their conceptual relevance, policy integration, technical robustness, and contribution to accountable decision-making.

Migration and geographical mobility in European cities

This project is funded by the EUROCITIES and is led by Iain Deas.

Migration has become an ever more important issue for European cities, linked to the intensification of economic globalisation, dislocation and displacement associated with conflict, and increased personal mobility related to more accessible mass transit and the shrinkage of real and perceived distance. Policy has sought in some instances to encourage migration, linked in Europe to parallel efforts to enhance labour mobility and promote the integration of national economies within the single market. For individual cities too, there has been an increasing emphasis on capitalising upon increased numbers of migrants, and in particular attracting skilled workers. Equally, the growth in migration has presented significant challenges for cities, in accommodating increased inflows of migrants or offsetting (or managing) outflows of more mobile skilled workers.

This research aims to understand more fully the roles played by different cities in Europe in redistributing population across geographical space. In doing so, the research presents the results of a review of existing literature on migration and spatial mobility, and analyses current migration data in order to develop a typology of European cities.

In seeking to understand the uneven nature of migration to and from different cities, the research undertakes a European wide analysis of socio-economic, geographical mobility and migration indicators. This involved modelling the relationship between net migration over the period 2001-06 and underlying socio-economic circumstances across European cities and regions. This in turn generated an area typology (high net gain areas, gaining areas, tipping areas, losing areas, and high net loss areas) that captured variable experiences with regard to migration. This was then adjusted to relate the categories to the 2008 European Union urban-rural typology.

National strategy for neighbourhood renewal evaluation

In 2005 the Department of Communities and Local Government commissioned AMION Consulting and CUPS to undertake the evaluation of the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. The three year evaluation programme will provide evidence on the effectiveness of the strategy in improving conditions in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods through a series of thematic papers including one by Brian Robson and Kitty Lymperopoulou on the alternative perspectives of a people-based and a place-based view of regeneration impacts.

The persistence of large disparities between the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the rest of the country has prompted the government’s vision for the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal (NSNR) that within 10 to 20 years, no-one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live. In acknowledging that previous regeneration programmes have failed to reverse neighbourhood decline, NSNR aims to tackle the  causes of deprivation in a more comprehensive way, focusing on the poorest neighbourhoods in the country and taking into account the interrelationships between the causes of deprivation. It aims to simultaneously improve education and skills, health, housing and reduce worklessness and crime.

The aim of the evaluation is to provide evidence on the extent and the ways in which the NSNR is achieving its objectives in improving conditions in all the poorest neighbourhoods and narrowing the gap between the most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest; and to provide recommendations to enhance the design and delivery of the strategy. The programme of work comprises of an assessment of progress in the areas targeted by NSNR through the development of quantitative indicators and a qualitative assessment of the effectiveness and appropriateness of the NSNR delivery mechanisms through previous evaluation research and a series of case studies and interviews.

A key strand of the evaluation examines the implications of people based and place based approaches on measuring the impact of regeneration. Ultimately, the success of NSNR in reversing patterns of decline in deprived neighbourhoods needs to be assessed against the fortunes of the households who live or lived in them, as well as against conditions in the area as a whole. The People and Places thematic paper examines the variation in the composition of households living in deprived areas as well as the composition of households moving in and out of deprived areas and develops a typology of deprived neighbourhoods to help in understanding the impact of mobility.

SMARTeST: Smart resilience, technology, systems and tools

Within this project, the Collaboratory for Urban Resilience and Energy cooperates with research institutions across Europe to explore the theme flood resilient technology as a new and innovative way of coping with major flood events.

The profound implications of climate change offer immense challenges to societies throughout the world. Yet international efforts to reach consensus on reducing the anthropogenic drivers of climate change have made little progress. In lieu of a mitigation ‘panacea’ it is believed that pragmatic adaptation strategies may facilitate the development of climate resilient communities and places, helping counteract at least the most immediate impacts of climate change. Moreover, increasing incidents of catastrophic flood events, often causing fatalities and frequently devastating both the urban fabric and communities, have further concentrated efforts to prepare for and protect against the impact of extreme weather events.

Whilst recent engineering advances have generated a range of technological ‘fixes’ for embedding resilience into the urban fabric, their uptake has been partial and often inconsistent. The ultimate aim of this three year €4.78m European Union Framework Programme 7 Project is to evaluate and improve the Road to Market of innovative (or smart) Flood Resilient (FRe) technology.

Drawing together ten European universities, the project unites multi-disciplinary academics and researchers to analyse how emergent and innovative (i.e. ‘smart’) technologies, tools and systems for flood resilience are deployed. We are particularly interested in assessing the barriers and resistance to the uptake of resilience, as well as in devising ways in which these challenges may be overcome.

A manual of FRe technology, systems and implementation tools will be produced, along with a review of ‘best’ and ‘worst’ practice for embedding flood resilience facilities in local areas. New technology, systems and tools will be developed and guidelines for validating technology, systems and tools performance will be established and applied in experimental studies to determine the reliability of flood resilience products. Ultimately it will facilitate the design of more holistic flood defence systems and supporting the implementation of the new EU flood risk management policy of “Living with Floods”.

Spatial Plans in Practice (SPiP)

As one of a consortium of partners, SPAG was heavily involved in a major three year study of the new local plan making system which was launched by CLG (formerly ODPM) in June 2005. The Spatial Plans in Practice Project (SPiP) was seen as a way of supporting the step change in local plan making by offering a valuable source of shared knowledge and experience gained by planners working on the ‘front-line’ of the new plan making system.

In 2004, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act introduced a new kind of planning at local level - the local development frameworks (LDFs) which are a flexible portfolio of different local development documents (LDDs) tailored to the needs of particular areas. The new LDF system replaces the previous system where all planning issues had to be addressed as part of a single development plan document that was often inflexible and slow to respond to change.

The intention of the Spatial Plans in Practice Project was to support local planning authorities during their transition and adjustment to the new system. This study was intended to provide evidence to help stakeholders involved in the planning process to better understand how inclusive and proactive plan making contributes to creating sustainable communities. The findings of the study are published as a series of Lessons Reports, Thematic Studies and Literature Reviews. SPAG was involved in delivering a number of reports covering topics such as Achieving Successful Participation in Spatial Planning and Infrastructure Delivery.

Understanding change in deprived neighbourhoods

This project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and is led by Dr Stephen Hincks.

The role of the neighbourhood in underpinning social responsibility and bolstering the well being of people living in deprived areas has long been at the heart of urban policy initiatives in the UK and elsewhere. Understanding the effects of internal neighbourhood composition on neighbourhood outcomes has long been a focus in academic literature. More recently, there has been an interest in understanding how functionality and spatial context help to shape deprived neighbourhoods.

The arguments made for understanding these individual drivers of neighbourhood change are compelling. However, it has been demonstrated that neighbourhoods are multi-dimensional in terms of their attributes, their compositions and their functionalities and as a result neighbourhoods vary across geographical space. This means that the effects of composition, functionality and spatial context manifest themselves in different ways in different places. The drivers of spatial change in deprived neighbourhoods, therefore, need to be understood in an integrated way so that future policy is better sensitised to the complex factors underpinning the cycle of decline that affects deprived areas.

The aim of the study then is to develop a spatial analytical approach for measuring spatial change in deprived neighbourhoods through the development of a conceptual and methodological framework that integrates approaches for understanding and measuring the effects of neighbourhood composition, functionality and context on neighbourhood change.

Uniting Britain: The evidence base

As part of its wider commitment to promoting more effective national spatial planning, the Royal Town Planning Institute commissioned Cecilia Wong, Alasdair Rae and Andreas Schulze Bäing to establish the evidence base or better understanding of the spatial structure that underpins the development of different parts of the UK. This is a follow-up study to that carried out by Wong, Ravetz and Turner in 2000.

In order to understand how the drivers of demographic factors, sociocultural factors, knowledge economy and business competitiveness, and environmental conditions shape the spatial structures and spatial trends of the UK, the analysis focuses on the interaction and connection between places as well as the spatial outcomes caused by these drivers of change. This was carried out without any pre-conception of what the UK spatial structure is or should be. The use of GIS techniques allowed us to map spatial patterns as far as possible at detailed spatial scales without being prejudiced by the boundaries of existing administrative areas. The analysis led to the conceptual derivation of 6 meaningful functional spatial clusters that may have policy implications for spatial planning: the London Supernova; the Central Constellation; the Tyne-Tees Cluster; the Central Belt of Scotland; the Belfast Cluster; and the South Wales and Bristol Channel Cluster. The findings of the study will help inform the Royal Town Planning Institute and its task group to further develop different policy scenarios in relation to the debate about the need for a UK Spatial Planning Framework.

Further reference

  • Wong C, Schulze Baing A and Rae A (2006) Uniting Britain: the evidence base – spatial structure and key drivers, the Royal Town Planning Institute, London.
  • Wong C, Ravetz J and Turner J (2000) The United Kingdom Spatial Planning Framework, the Royal Town Planning Institute, London.
  • Wong C (2002) Is there a need for a fully integrated spatial planning framework for the United Kingdom? Planning Theory and Practice, 3 (3), 277-300.