The Bartlett School of Planning


Sarah Cary

Research subject

Thesis title: Delivering urban energy infrastructure: the capacity of planning and governance networks in the cases of Barcelona, Burlington, Lerwick, London, and Toronto

Primary supervisor: Joanna Williams
Secondary supervisor: Yvonne Rydin
Starting date: January 2009 (MPhil)
Projected completion date: January 2015

My research investigated five cities which sought to establish a new energy utility - district heating and cooling (DHC)  systems - for environmental reasons. A highly efficient form of providing locally generated thermal energy for heating and cooling urban environments, DHC systems are a sound solution to environmental, energy security, climate change and fuel poverty concerns in cities. The premise of the research was that the delivery of DHC as a policy goal in modern cities requires the coordination and negotiation between multiple actors across space and time, and that spatial planning organisations and processes might have an important role to play in this interaction. 

Through 33 interviews and analysis of c.180 primary sources I explored how local governments, planning authorities, civic groups and various private companies work (or fail to work) together to organise and build local infrastructure. Actor-Centered Institutionalism was used to structure the analysis, distinguishing between structural (institutional) and intentional (actor) effects on the governance networks and the role of planning in the case studies.

Conclusions include both theoretical findings and practical lessons for local governments, spatial planning departments, property owners and utility companies. In particular, I categorise a range of potential roles for planning organisations and planning interventions in supporting DHC. By rejecting the notion that governance networks always succeed and including failed attempts to establish DHC systems, the research also identified specific actor orientations and capabilities as well as qualities and patterns of interaction which affect the capability of governance networks to deliver DHC.

The research contributes to growing theoretical and empirical dialogue on the potential contribution of planning systems, in relation to other urban policy and management organisations and processes, in building and managing urban infrastructure that will achieve environmental policy goals.


Sarah's academic background is in urban design, community participation and international development.  She has professional experience with sustainable development policy and practice across a wide range of UK sectors and scales of the built environment, and also corporate responsibility management and reporting. She is currently conducting her PhD part time while employed as the Sustainable Developments Executive for the British Land company PLC, where Sarah is responsible for environmental performance of a £2 billion development programme. She is able to bridge theoretical and technical understanding with business strategy and communicate environmental issues to CEOs or construction site operatives. She regularly presents and lectures on energy, carbon, biodiversity and sustainable design to industry and academia. 

MSc, Building and Urban Design in Development, the Development Planning Unit, UCL B.A., Plan II Liberal Arts (summa cum laude), University of Texas at Austin.