The Bartlett


Using transport investment to promote polycentric urban and regional structures

Professor Sir Peter Hall (1932–2014) of The Bartlett School of Planning was one of the greatest planners in modern times. He was a pioneer whose research changed the fabric of cities across the world

In the UK, his work led to some of the most influential planning ideas, such as:

  • enterprise zones (e.g., London’s Canary Wharf)
  • the development of an orbital rail system in London
  • strategic growth corridors along high-speed rail services.

He was focused on seeking to understand polycentricity. In Europe, cities and towns have become increasingly polycentric, with individual urban centres linked by fast public transportation. Yet this has its limits: high-speed networks can easily lead to the growth of larger cities and their surrounding regions, with other urban areas being left behind.

High Speed 1

In 1993–1996, Professor Hall was deeply involved in the strategic design of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which is today known as High Speed 1 (HS1). 

As advisor to the successful bid by the London and Continental Railways Consortium, he developed the Thames Gateway strategy, which sought to regenerate the London Docklands area and the wider Lower Thames region. 

Following Professor Hall’s advice, the HS1 route was configured to include stations at Stratford and at Ebbsfleet in Kent. 

HS1 opened in 2007, and Stratford International Station came into use for domestic services in 2009. This was a principal consideration in the International Olympic Committee’s choice of London as the location for the 2012 Olympic Games. 

Thanks to the London Olympics the area received an estimated £9 billion in private investment. The Stratford International Station is now one of the busiest in London, and HS1 itself carried about 4 million passengers on special shuttle services during the events.

High Speed 2

Further research by Professor Hall was instrumental in making the case for High Speed 2 (HS2) linking the north of England to London and the Continent. 

While the proposal remained controversial at the time of Professor Hall’s death, Phase 1 of HS2 is expected to connect London and the West Midlands by 2026. Professor Hall’s joint article with local experts was embraced. It was backed up in a follow-up proposal of High Speed 3 by central government to enhance connectivity across northern core cities. 

Professor Hall also maintained the importance of improving intra-regional and inter-urban connections to and from HS2 hubs for wider regional benefits.


From 2008–14, Professor Hall was the director of the European Union’s SINTROPHER project. The SINTROPHER project is a €23 million combined research and investment programme to improve connectivity between key transport hubs and five ‘peripheral’ regions in north-west Europe. 

SINTROPHER led to major investments in UK and European rail service including:

  • development of new tram/rail transport hubs in West Flanders at Koksijde, Veurne and Diksmuide
  • completion of Phase 3 (Line 2) of the Valenciennes tramway, a major €150 million European demonstration project involving a bi-directional single track system, the first large-scale system in Europe
  • the upgrading and £20 million extension of the Blackpool tramway, which carried over 5 million passengers since reopening in 2012
  • planned €50 million extension of the Flemish Kusttram system
  • enhancements to the RegioTram system in Nordhessen.

London Overground

Professor Hall proposed the early completion of the Orbirail. He suggested linking separate rail lines in London into a single outer circle train system, which would encourage polycentric development at key interchanges. 

The proposed system manifested as the fully connected London Overground, which opened in 2012. As a result, passenger numbers went, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson claimed, ‘through the roof’. 

In 2013, Transport for London announced a £320 million programme to increase capacity by 25%, and to introduce five-car trains on all London Overground routes to meet rapidly increasing demand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also announced £115 million funding for electrification of the Gospel Oak–Barking line. This would potentially extend the service to major urban regeneration in Barking Riverside – a key site in Professor Hall’s Thames Gateway proposals.