UoA 31: Planning at UCL

Since 2001, UCL has focused on building a single strong yet diverse Planning Research Group (hereafter referred to as ‘Planning’).  Our Key Strategic Research Aim is to: innovate thinking and practice in the different dimensions of Spatial Inquiry, Policy and Governance, and to play a leading international role in academic debate and knowledge transfer in these areas.

The group has made major contributions to knowledge: to understanding the fundamentals of urban form and complexity, society and development; critiquing the processes of planning, governance, regeneration and investment; and analysing the outcomes from planning as they affect urban quality, culture, sustainability and movement. 

Our research is conducted across UK, European and international contexts, and relates to both the developed and developing worlds.  A number of headline achievements during the assessment period reflect this endeavour:

  • 22 research-based books and 12 edited books
  • 49 peer-reviewed publications per year, including 21 refereed journal outputs
  • Two papers awarded AESOP prizes, one TRB Outstanding Paper prize, a Balzan prize, and a European prize of the Regional Science Association
  • £4.6 million (£31k per person per annum) research income attracted and spent
  • International keynote talk invitations from over 50 countries worldwide
  • 87 MPhil/PhD completions and 72 scholarship awards.


Our contribution
During this RAE period, the strengths and key contributions to knowledge of the group ranged across several different dimensions of Spatial Inquiry, Policy and Governance

  • Sustainable development: Rydin has opened up important new research fronts examining sustainable construction practices and techniques.  This builds on fundamental work examining the governance aspects of environmental planning, for example on community-based indicators and including one of the first substantive critiques of the GLA. Williams is building an international reputation for her work on sustainable consumption and production, eco-innovation and design, and is leading international debates on the environmental impact of one-person households. Allen’s work has brought a developing countries slant to environmental sustainability debates, with an important body of work focusing on environmental management at the peri-urban interface. Phelps’ work on European ‘post-suburbs’ and on city-regions explores the political and planning dilemmas of managing rapid urban development .
  • Transport and infrastructure: In 2006 we were awarded a Volvo Research and Education Foundation (VREF) five-year grant of SEK25 million (£1.85 million) to establish a global centre of excellence in urban transport – the OMEGA Centre for the Study of Mega Projects in Transport and Development.  A network of ten partner universities in Europe, USA and Australasia supports this centre, one of only six such centres worldwide.  The centre is led by Dimitriou and builds on his work evaluating the impact of major projects in Europe and Asia together with his TRB award-winning research on the relationship between land use/transport and urban development. These initiatives have enhanced the long established contribution of UCL to transport and land use policy, led in the past by Banister, and now complimented with significant contributions from Marshall on children’s mobility, sustainable travel patterns and tram networks.
  • Spatial analysis: This work explores the different dimensions of spatial analysis, the core of which is Batty’s use of computer-based technologies to examine the complexity of cities.  The internationally renowned Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) explores fundamental questions of city geometry and growth, the visualisation of cities through CAD and GIS, and its application to land use and transport simulation, and methodologies for planning and decision support, particularly in London.  Batty has attracted a stream of prestigious funded projects, whilst Wilsons work on complex spatial systems, theory and modelling is bringing new insights to these areas.
  • Spatial planning: UCL has played a major role in critiquing British town & country planning and inspiring the emergence of ‘spatial planning’ across the UK.  The work of Tewdwr-Jones in particular has driven the content of the recent reforms, and with Morphet (local government modernisation) and Carmona (performance measurement in planning) continues to influence effective implementation. Hall’s analysis of housing and work patterns in the South East has inspired key elements of the Government’s Sustainable Communities agenda, whilst his seminal work on polycentric mega-city regions continues to inform policy across Europe.  Significant contributions are also being made to critiquing spatial planning across Europe and in East Asia.
  • Urban design: Staff contribute to three key areas: inspiring and supporting the move from regulatory to design-led modes of planning through Carmona’s ongoing work on design policy and guidance, the value of urban design and AESOP award-winning work on design coding; through a diverse body of work on public space, focusing on environment-user relations and public space management; and on streets, urban structure and patterns and their relation to street design guidance, addressing the largely ignored interface between transport and design.  The latter is now the subject of a major EPSRC funded project.
  • Regeneration and development: Phelps has made seminal contributions to the economic development literature, particularly in the area of the attraction of, and investments made by, multinational companies and to theories of agglomeration.  This work is complimented by that of Sonn exploring questions of cities and innovation, and Zhang examining the impact of economic development and financial reform in China.  A range of London focused work analysing life and labour patterns in the capital and Edwards’ comprehensive analysis of regeneration practices and processes has been a critical influence on London planning. A new stream of work examining housebuilding and sustainable brownfield regeneration policies is taking forward UCL’s engagement with the property/planning interface, and building on de Magalhães’ AESOP award winning analysis of globalised property markets.
  • Housing, society and culture: Questions of housing design, development and planning cut across much work at UCL, but Gallent has made the most sustained contribution, leading in the fields of housing in the European countryside, second homes, housing affordability, and development at the urban/rural fringe.  Major new research directions are now being explored in the allied areas of: patterns of ethnic and socio-spatial segregation across Europe; women’s poverty and immigration, and cultural festivals; and city marketing, governance and collective memory.  In a developing countries context, Johnson is opening up an innovative body of work on post-disaster housing, whilst Cabannes leads international thinking for his work on participatory planning and budgeting.


Download full text of the RA5a statement for Town & Country Planning (pdf 132Kb)

Staff names below link to submitted publications:

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