Spatial Planning and City Environments

Group Lead: 
Mike Biddulph

The Spatial Planning and City Environments (SPACE) group is concerned with theorising the nature of planning practice whilst seeking to shape the knowledge and skill that characterise spatial planning and the development of the built environment. We generate, contribute to and explore the knowledge and ideas that influence or become planning policies and practice. Our work influences both planning systems and the environments that they generate. We are interested in the relationship between these and forms of human activity that produce space. We focus on research that promotes better outcomes through the planning system.

How we do it

Issues of interest to us
We use rigorous and innovative post-positivist, mixed-method research methodologies to explore how spatial planning and spatial practices shape and are shaped by

  • Education and training,
  • Ethics and ideologies,
  • Race, ethnicity and disability,
  • Professional skills and identities,
  • Institutional structures and processes of decision making,
  • Types of and the exercise of power,
  • Social and cultural lives,
  • Aesthetic value systems and
  • Economic circumstances.

How these issues are considered at a range of scales
We engage in research at a range of scales. Our outputs reflect an interest in theorising planning practices and outcomes at the street, neighbourhood,  local government, regional, national and international scales.  Often our work explores how spatial and planning practices emerge through ideas and policies that pass between these scales.

The importance of place
As planners, our research embraces and celebrates the particularities of place, but we seek to make significant contributions to knowledge and thinking that are transferable to other contexts through reflexive theorising or practice.

Examples of our work

Examples of significant contributions to knowledge and practice include:

  • The epistemology of thinking and practice about and for urban design, and the implications for how knowledge is created, applied and disseminated. This is important as it explores what is possible within research for urban design practice. This has wide ranging theoretical and methodological implications.
  • Theorising the role of entrepreneurialism in governance and regeneration practice through examining urban design practice and outcomes. This explains what urban designers working in more neo-liberal economic settings have been able to achieve.
  • Examining how knowledge in planning emerges, and the challenges within that process, for example in considering research ethics.
  • Theorising the role of values in professional life and work , including the life and work of planners, and the implications of that for pedagogy.
  • Exploring how public policy for urban regeneration combines with approaches to design control and development practice to impact on the quality of development within discrete settings. Understanding the distorting effects of private interests and inter-urban competition on the nature of new urban spaces and places emerging in different economic contexts. This highlights the limits of where statutory planning systems can intervene in the public interest to deliver development quality.
  • Examining how liveability concepts can be applied through urban design practice to the design of public spaces and their impact on patterns of public space use and environmental preferences. Such work challenges pre-existing design and engineering standards for streets and assumptions made about necessary relationships in space between people and traffic.
  • Exploring the development of planning education in a changing, globalising landscape of higher education looking at the implications of an increasingly international student body, commodification of knowledge. new pedagogies and technologies and questions on the planning profession.
  •  Extending understanding of the concepts and practices applied in regulatory enforcement, including the key factors framing decision-making in discretionary planning systems. This work on enforcement has also introduced new conceptual lenses to help interpret the activity of planning enforcement through engagement with social theory and surveillance concepts.
  •  Research for the Federation of Small Businesses on the planning system in Wales explored conceptual frameworks on consumers and clients of the planning system. This work demonstrated that the consumer experience of the planning system can be explained in part by exploring production-consumption cycles. The work permits a re-evaluation of the reasons for dissatisfaction with experiences of the planning system and how these may be addressed.
  • Examining the effects of planning activity, notably in relation to social justice. 
  • Theorising the relationship between planners and those they deal with in their day-to-day work, particularly non-professionals .

Future plans

We will continue to examine how knowledge in planning emerges, and the challenges within that process, for example in considering research ethics. We will continue to theorise the role of values in professional life and work, including the life and work of planners, and the implications of that for pedagogy.

We will also examine the effects of planning activity, notably in relation to social justice and theorise the relationship between planners and how they deal with non-professionals in their day-to-day work.

We will examine concepts like the public interest and the just city/good city and we will develop a non-liberal understanding of these ideas.

We will explore policy gaps and needs and the implications for townscape of microgeneration of renewable energies in post-peak oil society. What will be the shape, form and character of the energy-efficient sustainable city?

We will explore the potential and influence of new technologies and social networking media on the dynamics of public participation in planning and urban design processes.

We will examine how liveability concepts can be applied through urban design practice to the design of public spaces and their impact on patterns of public space use and environmental preferences.

We will study the relationship between drawing and conceptual thinking in urban design theory and practice.   This has implications for epistemology of thinking for urban design, and how knowledge is created, applied and disseminated within the discipline.

We will extend our work on planning enforcement to consider how actions and behaviours of individuals are shaped by the design of these regulatory frameworks.

We will also explore processes of reform to planning systems, seeking to explain the practices and processes of designing new planning frameworks.

PhD applications

We welcome PhD applications from people who share our interests as outlined above. If you want to informally discuss an idea then please contact a member of staff directly by email. Have a look through the research interests of staff listed at the top.

We specifically welcome PhD proposals which consider the following:

  • The relationship between design and development quality and features of the design and development process
  • Any aspect of design control
  • The design, regulation, management and use of particular types of environment of interest to urban designers, such as streets, squares, residential environments, business parks, retail projects etc
  • Work looking at how particular groups of people engage with, and are affected by,  the built environment and/or the planning process, , such as children, elderly people, ethnic minority and linguistic minority groups etc
  • Planning and designing for heritage and conservation of the built environment
  • The influence of culture on planning practice and the production of place
  • Changes in townscape and regulation under increasing micro energy generation
  • Community involvement and urban design/planning
  • Education/pedagogy in City and Regional planning
  • Narratives of planning reform, including exploration of the processes and delivery of reforms to planning systems
  • Regulatory enforcement in planning systems, including comparative study of different European planning systems
  • The nature of professionalism, professional judgement,  and in particular the place of values in professional life
  • Tourism – its geographies, and its relationship to spatial planning
  • Planning history