Tourism Governance: a critical discourse on a global industry

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By Amir Gohar

Although the history of governances has been thoroughly chronicled and the history of tourism has also been thoroughly examined, the relationship between both has received relatively little attention. This is primarily because numerous scholars have specialised in certain perspectives of tourism, including anthropological, sociological, cultural, economic, business, and hospitality. 

The management of tourism and tourism related activities are often the role of a very complex set of stakeholders. In many countries, despite varying cultural and geopolitical differences, there are government agencies with similar or identical titles of “Ministry of Tourism.” However, in other countries, even with similar levels of tourism sector activity, there appears to be no trace of tourism policy within any government agency.

Tourism Governance: a critical discourse- on a global industry book cover

This book “Tourism Governance: A Critical Discourse on a global Industry” is conceived as a natural evolution to the critical thinking of the different negative impacts of tourism on several scales. It was conceived in 2016 in one of the Berkeley’s Tourism Studies Working Group (TSWG), in the University of California at Berkeley, California. During my journey of exploring and questioning tourism, I have been observing both: tourists and tourism critics occupied with the impacts of the final tourism product or tourism development while paying very little attention to the energies, forces, and dynamics that contribute to shaping this tourism development that they have been dissatisfied with.

The governance structures of Colombia, Egypt, Finland, France, India, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States are compared and contrasted in the book. It offers methodical, critical comparisons of various tourism governance systems and stakeholders throughout these nation-states, with a separate chapter for each nation-state. In addition to individual country chapters, this book discusses non-country-specific forms of tourism that do not necessarily fit the mould of tourism governance.

Without a doubt, international governments play an important role in shaping national and local tourism policies. The book elaborates on how international organisations such as UNWTO, UNESCO, World Bank, USAID, UNEP, GEF, and many others contribute to shaping tourism policies on both the national and international levels, such as offering economic assistance to nation states that is spent on tourism sectors.

Tourism governance, as explored throughout these diverse contexts, may often appear in one of two forms: either as a centralized agency or multiple agencies which operate in different divisional hierarchies. In some cases, there is a mixture of both centralized tourism governance and localized –or decentralized– tourism governance.

The book identifies three categories to unpack tourism authorities within different countries:

(1) Tourism Governance in the Central Government (Stand-alone/Mixed/Non-existent): Tourism presented as a stand-alone sector such is in France; mixed/shared with other economic sector such as fishery or agriculture; or doesn’t exist in the central government such as in the USA.

(2) Tourism Governance (Centralized or Localized): Tourism as an authority is represented in the central government such as in Oman; managed through local government such as Spain; or in mixed between the two levels of government such as in Poland and Thailand.

(3) Tourism Governance (Public Sector or Private Sector): Tourism as an industry managed by the public sector such as Oman, the private sector such as in USA; or by mix of both, such as in Egypt.

There are numerous approaches to achieving the overarching goal of promoting tourism within a country. Because each agent within a country has a different set of priorities to consider when managing tourism, there is a lot of room for potential conflict between tourism governance and national, local, and other sectors, industries, and organisations.

Tourism governance must compete with other industries in which land use is the primary source of income. Conflict with these other income-generating land uses, particularly when resource extraction visually and significantly contributes to landscape degradation, is a major source of concern in tourism promotion. In Oman, for example, the oil sector has long been a significant part of the economy, but in the last decade, tourism has emerged as a new investment and a growing part of the economy. However, there is a direct conflict between the differences in coastal usage: for a long time, oil extraction and manufacturing equipment has made coastal areas less appealing to tourists, preventing the opportunity for a tourism infrastructure explosion.

Notwithstanding the resource-based conflict, there is additionally fundamental conflict among the travel industry and other non-financial qualities, particularly concerning cultural and social qualities. In spite of the fact that the travel industry helps the economy, it might likewise act as a force to displace local people. The tourism governments on all level should consider such inherited conflict and act to safeguard the wellbeing of local communities.

While the nations discussed in the book were not picked with a specific foreordained characteristic, diving into their travel industry administration structures has uncovered numerous worldwide subjects. From the administrative association of the travel industry board, to the collaborations among specialists and partners, as well as the effects of other businesses and assets, there are numerous likenesses between the travel industry enterprises around the world. Significantly, this exploration doesn’t endeavour to rank the distinctions between these various types of the travel industry, yet rather to feature how these distinctions may assist with serving these singular nations’ differing needs for their particular objectives in the travel industry administration and advancement. However, even given contrasts in social and geographic settings, there is a strong story of the travel industry administration universally also, locally.

If interested, you can find out more about the book here:

The challenge of delivering affordable housing in the South West

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by Dannielle Sinnett, Hannah Hickman, Katie McClymont, Stephen Hall, Cat Loveday, Jessica Lamond and Rebecca Windemer

We were commissioned by Homes for the South West, a consortium of housing associations, to examine the factors affecting housing affordability in the region and provide an estimate of future housing needs. To do this, we drew on Government data, a survey of local authorities, interviews with housing associations, local authorities and private developers, and a review of planning policies in the region.

Mulberry Park, a new development by Curo in Bath (credit Andrew Sykes and Curo)

How affordable is housing in the South West?

The South West faces acute problems of housing affordability. The region is conspicuously less affordable than England as a whole, and the North and Midlands in particular. In 2021, median house prices were approximately ten times greater than the median earnings. These inter-regional disparities are also becoming progressively more pronounced; in 1997 house prices were around four times greater than earnings.

Three quarters of local authority areas have affordability ratios (the ratio between house price and individual earnings) higher than that for England as a whole, and all have affordability ratios higher than those for the North of England. There is also substantial diversity in affordability ratios within local authority areas in the South West. The ten least affordable neighbourhoods in the region have median house prices more than 28 times median earnings. Even in the most affordable neighbourhoods median house prices are still more than three times median earnings.

Which factors impact housing affordability?

Property prices in the South West are markedly higher than England as a whole, and have risen nearly fourfold – faster than the national average rate of increase – in the past 25 years. However, the region has lower than average earnings, which have failed to keep up with house price increases. This has significant implications for local people, especially younger households or first-time buyers.

House prices are often higher in places with a high environmental quality and good access to local amenities and services. We found that, within a local authority area, neighbourhoods closer to the coastline are less affordable, as are those in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In general, more rural places are less affordable than towns and cities, but within these rural areas, those with better transport and broadband connectivity were even less affordable. Stakeholder reported that the high land values in the region undermine the viability of affordable housing.

Furthermore, these locations are also popular retirement and tourist destinations. It appears that local authorities in the South West with a greater proportion of second homes are less affordable and in-migration is dominated by arrivals from elsewhere in the UK (as opposed to international migration). This suggests, perhaps, the existence of a distinctive residential ‘offer’ in the region, one that attracts retirees, people working from home and those commuting to London and the South East, further increasing demand for new homes.

Finally, we looked at the supply of new homes compared with projected household formation since 1997. Over this period, the supply of new homes in the South West has not kept pace with demand, with an estimated deficit of 99,978 homes. This shortfall does not account for holiday lets or second homes, so is likely to be much greater. Most local authorities’ assessments of housing need will not address this shortfall by 2032.

Planned affordable eco-homes by Bromford Housing Association in Moreton-in-Marsh

What is the impact of Right to Buy?

Housing providers in the South West report that Right to Buy has had a detrimental impact on housing affordability in the region, particularly in respect of its role in the depletion of the overall stock of affordable housing. Since 1997, some 33,220 local authority-owned homes were sold through Right to Buy, whereas local authorities in the South West delivered only 2,320 new homes. The impact of Right to Buy appears to be particularly acute in small rural communities where a handful of sales locally might equate to a high proportion of total stock and may be difficult to replace given the higher unit costs of construction on small rural sites. In addition, development viability and funding challenges make it difficult for local authorities to replace social housing on a one-to-one basis.

What is the impact of national and local policy?

Regional stakeholders were critical of the complexity created by multiple definitions of affordable housing observed in planning policies. More importantly, they argued that these definitions do not equate to genuinely affordable housing.

The under-resourcing of planning was identified as a significant impediment to timely decision-making and on-site delivery.

Assessing future affordable housing need

To assess future housing need we estimated the number of new homes needed for each local authority in the South West from 2022 to 2039, and the proportion of new households that would need to spend more than 40% of their monthly income on mortgage repayments (i.e. unaffordable housing).

We estimated that around 28,337 homes need to be delivered in the region each year between 2022 and 2039, of which 17,282 would need to be affordable for those on median incomes – around 60%. These proportions are far greater than the thresholds in many planning policies.

Despite these challenges, stakeholders detailed how collaboration and partnership working between housing associations, local authorities and SME housebuilders was able to deliver affordable homes. They also highlighted that the delivery of affordable homes was intrinsic to other priorities, including ensuring high quality homes and responding to climate and ecological emergencies. Such practices provide opportunities on which to build to ensure that housing is delivered in the region which is affordable and sustainable.

The full report can be found here:


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by Gloria Lanci

The Liverpool Map, by Inge Panneels and Jeffrey Sarmiento, in exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool (photo Gloria Lanci, 2019)

My recent book, ‘Art Maps and Cities’, presents an original study on how contemporary artists are exploring urban spaces through mapping. It elaborates on the idea of the art map as an open-ended practice that can unfold collective endeavour, personal narratives, contestation and protest, embodiment and play, and where knowledge is a cultural production. As cities are transformed through urban planning, political ideologies and socio-economic forces, art maps not only reflect these processes, but they embed knowledge to reinterpret and understand the very nature of urban spaces. Cities have been intrinsically connected with mapmaking throughout history, from the pre-historic rock engravings and paintings of the first settlements, to the intricate and fascinating printings of the Renaissance and the current hyperreal digital visualisations. Despite that, little research is dedicated to investigating how artists intervene in the realm of urban cartography, and the relationships that can be envisaged between art maps and cities in the contemporary world.

‘Art Maps and Cities’ examines a century-old history of art maps and draws on academic debates that have been challenging traditional notions of maps as scientific artefacts for information and way-finding, constructed through accurate measurement and surveying, and based on knowledge that is detached from cultural, economic and political contexts. The book discusses the potential of art maps to construct personal narratives, through contestation, embodiment and play.

Lanci, G. (2022) Art Maps and Cities: contemporary artists explore urban spaces. Palgrave Macmillan / Springer International

This book was developed from both my long-established research interest in the urban landscape and more recent training and work experience in geographic information systems. Although these subjects were pursued in quite different contexts of knowledge—the former in the humanities, following an academic background in architec­ture and planning; the later within the science and technology of spatial analysis and database management—they came together unexpectedly in a project combining visual arts, mapping and cities.  Adopting an exploratory and interpretative research approach that investigates the confluence of theories originated in different domains, this book conducts the reader to discover what artistic practices can bring into a more creative, while inquisitive, understanding of cities. The bulk of the research conducted for this book is centred on two sets of semi-structured interviews: four British artists based in Britain and the US, and a small group of artists who produced three maps for Liverpool between 2005 and 2011. Artists were enquired about how they apprehend, process and re-create urban spaces in artworks, incorporating cartographic processes alongside their art practices. Visiting their studios and entangling in long conversations, I could understand how much of their mapping interests are associated with their own personal artistic journeys. Each art map is materialised through fabrication that can involve intense labour and elaborate craft skills, but also from an accumulated experience of constant interrogation of their own practices and their meanings. In this sense, the art maps they produce result in more than objects to be seen, exhibited, archived; they document performative acts.

If interested, you can find out more about the book here: 

Hitting the right note

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by Judith Parry

In June this year, I had the privilege of attending a residential conference for UWE postgraduate research students, hosted by the graduate school.  Among the excellent items in a packed programme was an activity based on the dance your PhD contest.  This is an annual competition aimed at postgraduate researchers, in which students are challenged to present their research clearly and succinctly, in an entertaining manner, in order that it can be accessed by a wider audience audience (further information on the competition can be found here:

As luck would have it, I had brought my guitar to the residential. A few hours later, therefore, I had a rough-hewn song with some ropey lyrics.  The initial intention had been to add this as an audio file over some images, but I ran out of time and tech conspired against me.  Consequently, I chose instead to go unplugged, performing my “sung PhD” to a room full of my peers to much critical acclaim i.e. applause and some enthusiastic feedback.

Emboldened by this early success, I found myself playing the audio file of this song to my supervision team a few weeks later. They weren’t too damning of my efforts either – one of them even danced a little – so I proceeded to take further encouragement from this.

Which is how I recently found myself presenting my PhD research “Exploring the wellbeing benefits of Community-Led Housing, focusing on the influence of green space and green infrastructure on the mental wellbeing of residents”, as a more refined version of this song. This took place at the South West Doctoral Research Partnership conference, hosted on Frenchay campus towards the end of November.  I think the delegates attending the break-out session at which I provided this opener were more than a little surprised, but – once again – my efforts appeared to be met with some approval.

I suggest therefore that there is something to be said for not always conforming to the usual PowerPoint presentation as a means of communication.  The existence of a seminar at this same conference, on the topic of podcasts and research, would perhaps indicate I am not alone in thinking this.  Also, as a fellow PhD student said via direct message immediately afterwards, she found my performance “very informative as well as entertaining.” Which had been entirely my intention.

As researchers, many of us seek not only to gain knowledge for the sake of it, but also for our findings to have a wider influence on society, beyond the walls of academia.  More inventive forms of communicating our results are therefore surely to be recommended.  That is not to say that the accepted routes, such as peer-reviewed publications and traditional presentations, don’t continue to be valid and viable, but they perhaps lack the broader appeal needed to enable wider impact.

Whilst I recognise that approaches such as this song will not be acceptable to everyone, the reactions received to date suggest that at least it will not be forgotten. I thus remain resolved to continue in my attempts to strike a chord* with people in this manner.

(*Yes, I also pun.  And I’m not sorry.  You’ll remember that one too, though, won’t you?)

Ageing onshore wind infrastructures: researching end of life moments of wind energy infrastructure in Italy

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by Carla De Laurentis

COP 27 concluded on the 20th of November 2022 and stressed how the unprecedented global energy crisis underlines the urgency to rapidly transform energy systems and the need to accelerate towards a clean and just transition to renewable energy. Seizing the opportunities of cheaper renewables will play a major role in the forthcoming decade and as countries move towards carbon neutrality goals, reaching these goals will require increased efforts in renewable energy development and deployment. While there are numerous benefits globally from the growth in renewable generation, a pertinent environmental and policy issue in the next decades- one that has been given only limited and recent attention- is the consideration of the end-of-life of low carbon infrastructure.  

Existing energy infrastructure, from conventional power generation plants to wind farms, have a technical and/or economic lifecycle predetermined by the gradual decreases of their performance or conversion efficiency over the infrastructure’s lifetime. At the end of this lifetime, it is expected that this infrastructure will contribute to a dramatic increase in waste generation. Most of the attention towards renewable energy infrastructure has predominantly focussed on the planning, design and construction of renewable energy projects driven by the need to decarbonise the energy sector, while overlooking the processes required for the management of the end of life and the decommissioning options of renewable infrastructure. Nevertheless, as waste arising from end-of-life renewable energy infrastructure is projected to grow over the next 10 years this is considered one of the biggest emerging environmental sustainability issues faced by countries globally.

To date, there have been limited number of studies that have focused on life extension, completed repowering, and or full decommissioning projects from which lessons can be learned. To address this knowledge gap, Dr Rebecca Windemer and I have joined forces- and research interests- to undertake a research project entitled ‘Is there an afterlife for wind installations in Italy?’. The project, funded by an Environmental and Sustainability Research Grant of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG), aims at investigating and understanding the different end of life moments, opportunities and challenges that are emerging in wind infrastructure in Italy. The Italian case offers a pertinent opportunity to investigate the supporting governance, environment, and business models of proposed solutions as approximately 50% of wind capacity is expected to reach end-of-life by 2030.

Rebecca and I outside the Ministry of Economic Development in Rome, Italy

The research is ongoing and has so far included a number of qualitative interviews and a short survey with wind farm developers, operators, renewable consultants, and policy makers. We had a really successful visit to Italy in October 2022 where we conducted fifteen interviews, which we are in the process of analysing.

Initial findings suggest that, while determining end of life options for wind infrastructure is undoubtedly a decision unique to each project, there are a number of factors that are also influencing such decisions. Life extension, repowering and full decommissioning of wind infrastructures are multifaceted issues affected by technical, legal, economic, financial, social and environmental challenges. There is great value in understanding how these challenges coalesce as it provides an opportunity to better understand how much waste will be generated in the future and the range of possible options for dealing with that waste.

For update on the research please contact us:;

“Where are ‘smart’ sustainable cities made?” Recognising, raising and responding to shared questions…

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by Rebecca Windemer, Torik Holmes and Carla De Laurentis

Where are ‘smart’ sustainable cities made?

The three of us met during our respective ESRC post-doctoral fellowships during the Covid pandemic. Eager to strengthen existing connections and forge new ones, during a time when researchers were grappling with learning new ways of academic working, we engaged in a number of online discussions related to our research interests. We soon realised that although from different disciplinary backgrounds (planning, innovation, and sociology), our research areas overlapped and we shared a topical concern with energy transitions and their material, spatial and temporal dimensions.

We have now organised two workshops, written a book chapter and a journal article (both currently under-review) focused on the connections between infrastructures, climate change and sustainability. Under the artistic direction of Mair Perkins, we also produced the embedded animation above. It draws on insights from our independent and combined research.

The video’s title – ‘Where are ‘smart’ sustainable cities made?’ – is one of the questions we have raised and responded to in conjunction.

‘Smarter’ and more sustainable city visions hinge on the increasing generation of clean power and the electrification of everyday modes of travel, working and living arrangements.

The animation tells an important story about socially, institutionally and geographically saturated and stretched energy infrastructures and the interconnections between various sites of demand and systems of provision. Indeed, it conveys the importance of ‘following the wires’ to reveal points of tension along networks of provision where sustainable transitions are calibrated. This somewhat bucks against the norm.

‘Smart’ city research has typically involved turning to cities with smart and sustainable aspirations to address empirical questions, examining, along the way, local discourses, strategies and sited innovations. A great deal of resources, time and effort have been poured into smart city discourses and, indeed, into making cities smarter and, so the rationale goes, more sustainable.

Following the wires can help reveal points of tensions along networks of provision.

Researchers have taken a great deal of interest in these topics and things going on ‘in’ cities. Recognising this and drawing on our knowledge, we were drawn to focus instead on the wider ordering and management of key service infrastructures and the provision of renewable sources of energy, both of which have received less attention in smart city literature. This is the case even though these are critical for smart and sustainable city ambitions. In quite rudimentary terms, without an ability to connect to electricity networks and without the provision of clean energy, smart and sustainable city buildings, technologies, policies and initiatives would not (and will not) materialise.

We hope the video speaks for itself and sparks discussion and consideration of what changes are needed in and indeed beyond cities to facilitate sustainable shifts. Through doing so, we hope it also reveals the benefits of interdisciplinary collaborations in facilitating broader discussion around sustainability and net zero agendas.

We are thankful to the ESRC for funding our post-doctoral fellowships as well as the video produced.

A short note about the authors:

Dr Rebecca Windemer is a senior lecturer in environmental planning at UWE and a member of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments. Her teaching and research crosses the disciplines of environmental planning and energy geography. Her teaching and research interests involve the regulation of renewable energy infrastructure and how the planning system can help achieve net zero ambitions.

Dr Torik Holmes is a sociologist and social science researcher based in the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester. His research interests focus on connected systems of provision, consumption and disposal, with electricity and plastics forming central subjects.

Dr Carla De Laurentis is a lecturer in Environmental Management in UWE and a member of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments. Her research interests converge around the geography of innovation and low-carbon transitions. She is particularly interested in understanding the mechanisms that lead to an effective diffusion of renewable energy technologies and how energy infrastructure networks, and their reconfiguration, might influence renewables deployment.   

HERA Closing conference: the end or just the beginning?

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by Katie McClymont

Statue with conference banner (Image credits: Marianne Knapskog)

The HERA Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe funding stream, of which this project is a part, marked its formal end with a two-day closing conference in Wroclaw, Poland on 8th and 9th September 2022. Twenty projects representing researchers from twenty-four countries were represented through posters, films and discussions, along the theme of ‘Humanities in Crisis, Crisis in Humanities’.

Wroclaw (pronounced more like ‘Vrot-swaff’ than English speakers may imagine), formerly known as Breslau, is a beautiful ancient city in the South-Western Silesia region of Poland; a city of many bridges and rivers, high-quality reconstruction following damage the second world war, and a local tradition of gnome sculptures. The city also has a long-standing and more recent Ukrainian community and the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag was flying from public and private buildings, chiming with the conference’s theme of crisis, at this of war in Europe.

  Wroclaw by night (Image credits: Avril Maddrell) 

Our CeMi delegation (Avril, Christoph, Marianne and myself) opened our visit by a trip to the Old Jewish Cemetery. Pleasing to the planners in the delegation, we quickly travelled there by busy tram. It was easy to access the space, but harder to find; being behind a high, unlabelled wall along a main road with little signage or ceremonial entrance. The Cemetery itself is officially a museum, part of the City’s combined museums trust and known as the Museum of Cemetery Art.

This meant that the space was beautifully preserved, and graves of famous former residents well marked out; however its identity as a public space was therefore more problematic. We had to buy (albeit reasonably priced) tickets to enter, an immediate barrier to publicness, even if necessary for the maintenance and preservation of the site.

Old Jewish Cemetery (Image credits: Marianne Knapskog)

On exiting, we noticed a long avenue of trees leading to the entrance from a different direction from how we entered, presumably a former more formal approach, now dislocated by changing road and land-use patterns. Even in a city of such fine reconstruction, there is churn, change and forgetting. Unlike the playful gnomes which entice the visitor to seek out less-seen aspects of public space, the Old Jewish Cemetery felt hidden and out of sight and separate from its environs.

Gnome (Image credits: Katie McClymont)

There is not the space here to reflect more fully on the wider themes and projects presented at the conference which spanned post-war social housing, night, markets, public transport and much more. Two terms raised in discussion particularly resonated, and I will briefly reflect on these. The first was the idea of ‘unlearning’- unlearning (post) colonial scripting of spaces and identities. Taking such ideas to think about cemeteries as public space can challenge the ordering of these spaces, too often received as apart and away from daily life. With processes of ‘unlearning’, the sense of belonging and needs of diverse groups can be repositioned, as our project has explored. The second was the idea of ‘visual nuisance’, raised in discussion about street homelessness and substance abuse. Are cemeteries and memorials a visual nuisance, or can certain practices within these (or spilling out of them) become so? As public spaces, what practices, if any, conflict with their publicness and should be controlled? Does such designation hide less welcome publics and stories? Should they therefore be hidden away?

Although the funding stream draws to a close, the discussion emanating from these two days demonstrated that there is so much more to explore. Projects which have been restrained and reshaped by Covid- a pandemic which fundamentally altered our ability to be in, and understanding of public space, highlight the importance of public space to our identities and actions, and that these are free of conflict, or remains static places. To be physically together in a place for a conference itself has a certain publicness, the sharing of ideas and findings, is itself an act of remaking our understandings.

For further information on our project check the project website: and the funding programme website:

How can I produce a high-quality research dissertation with impact? Top tips and reflections

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By Megan Streb…

About 9 months after I handed in my dissertation, Sustrans published a report based on my findings, which was picked up by national media, and has been included in an LGA briefing to local authorities.

Some of the strategies I applied to planning, researching, and submitting my dissertation on time will doubtless be useful for future MSc Urban Planning students. Here I share my tips and reflections:

  • Build your understanding of the issues

When I started the course, I signed up for a few planning mailing lists, joined the RTPI and Urban Design Group, and followed a bunch of people on Twitter. I kept abreast of issues between our lecturers, Twitter, and reading a lot of Executive Summaries.

By the time I was mulling over my dissertation topic, I had a few issues in planning that I was interested in researching.

  • Decide what you’re aiming for, even if you know it might change.

I knew I wanted my dissertation findings to be directly useful to officers in Local Planning Authorities (LPAs). Having that aim shaped my research in terms of how I settled on a topic, chose its scope, and how hard I worked to get a high response rate. Once I’d handed it in, that aim influenced my decision to find an organisation to publish it as a report rather than as an academic paper. 

I also knew I wanted to hand in by September, as my hours were going back to full time at that point. So all my project planning (yes, I had a Gantt chart) was working backwards from that date.

  • Grow and use your network

To narrow down my dissertation topic, I wanted to speak to people in the planning profession about what research they felt would be most useful.

I was really surprised by how many people responded to a cold introduction on Twitter or by email that introduced my broad area of interest and asked “can I pick your brain for 20 minutes?” I think the amount of Zoom and Teams calls has helped. I made sure to keep the calls to under 20 minutes, but those brief chats helped me refine my topic and get important feedback.

If the idea of reaching out to complete strangers gives you cold sweats, start with your existing network. If fellow students work for LPAs, ask if they can share your survey or help you identify someone to interview. If you know someone who works in a consultancy and want their thoughts on a topic, drop them a message and offer to buy them a coffee.

  • Narrow your scope far more than you think you need to.

If you want to say something interesting and meaty about a topic, you need to pick a narrow topic. Too broad and you’ll spend most of your time trying to bring it all together, and most of your word count just explaining things.

I thought I had a narrow topic around walkability in new developments, but I needed to narrow it further to talk about site allocations rather than site layouts in masterplanning. It was hard because I felt like I was leaving really interesting topics out, but I was able to say more of substance as a result. 

  • Know that there will be a lot of ‘grunt work’ and plan for it

I watched all of Bridgerton and a season of Drag Race AllStars while collecting email addresses for planning policy teams to send my survey out. It was unbelievably tedious, but I’d planned my time to allow for that. (I’ve now shared that list publicly so you don’t have to do the same!) That prep work plus a tailoring my emails (competition between regions for response rate was very effective) paid off. I had responses from ⅓ of LPAs in England outside London.

In contrast, I didn’t allow for enough time to process my survey results–my estimate was about one-quarter of what it actually took me.  That meant writing up my results and final editing was compressed into painful final months. Learn from my mistake and don’t underestimate the time grunt work takes.

“Don’t underestimate the time grunt work takes.”
  • Edit, edit, and then edit some more.

Whether writing for an academic audience, or with civil servants in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in mind, editing is such a crucial part of your dissertation. To help me with editing, I had a separate document called “what I’m trying to say” which outlined the “story” of my research to help me stick to a structure. Give yourself time to edit based on that narrative separate to proofreading.

When writing the report based on my dissertation, a lot of time was spent deciding what to cut to make sure the report was concise and to the point.

Doing an MSc gives you the space and opportunity to really explore a topic. Take full advantage of that, whether you want to further your career, make an impact in the sector, or dig into a fascinating academic debate.

If you’re interested in reading my dissertation If you treasure it, measure it: examining the use of walkable distances to amenities in the site allocation process, it’s available here.

Tricks of the trade: why design quality diminishes post-planning permission

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by Hannah Hickman….

The ambition to achieve high quality design outcomes in the delivery of new homes is undisputed and currently prominent on the political agenda. Most recently, we have seen amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework to strengthen its design focus, a new National Model Design Code, the creation of a new Office for Place to “drive up design standards[1] and the appointment of a Head of Architecture within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. These initiatives have been heralded by some commentators as signalling “a moment of potential national change in the relationship between design, planning and development in England”[2].

One aspect of the planning and development process that has hitherto received little attention in relation to ensuring high quality design outcomes has been post-consent: the journey of a development from the point of receiving planning permission (either through outline permission or full planning permission) through to on-site construction, occupation and on-going management. This was the subject explored by SPE’s Hannah Hickman, Dr Katie McClymont, Dr Hooman Foroughmand-Araabi, Nick Croft and Adam Sheppard (now at the University of Gloucestershire) in recent research commissioned by the West of England Combined Authority.

Are schemes build out as initially approved?

This study explored all post-consent stages including the discharge/variation of planning conditions; reserved matters; non-material and minor-material amendments; subsequent planning applications; monitoring; compliance; and, if necessary, enforcement, to assess the extent to which these stages may result in reductions in design quality and why.  

The journey from concept to detail

Whilst the team concluded that what happens post-consent is not the main determinant of design quality, it was clear that post-consent processes can result in a significant drop in the quality of a scheme. They found a range of design elements being regularly impacted post-consent, from key details such as brick choice, materials, and window detailing, to green infrastructure and landscaping, and, on occasions, substantial scheme re-configuration and density alterations. The challenges associated with managing the cumulative impact of multiple changes were particularly problematic for guarding against reductions in design quality.

Some planning officers involved in the study were concerned that developers use post-consent rather unscrupulously and described post-consent change as being frustratingly routine and occurring in nearly all schemes, whatever the scale. They described schemes as being ‘watered down’ andreferredto conversations with developers’ post-consent that started with phrases such as ‘this wasn’t what we agreed guys’. Developers, on the other hand, saw the need for post-consent change as not only inevitable but necessary: the need to respond to the circumstances of a site once at the delivery stage, and development viability were the most common justifications for post-consent change.  

The research highlights five areas for action to improve practice as follows:

The report’s five areas for overarching action
  • The first is about ensuring that post-consent is viewed as an integral part of the development process from project inception to on-site delivery, occupation and ongoing management. This is to address the fact that post-consent often falls below the radar.
  • Part of this is about the second set of actions focussed on resourcing and empowering officers so that they the capacity to best support a development’s journey at post-consent and the confidence to advocate for the need to maintain particular design aspects of a scheme to achieve quality outcomes.
  • The third set of actions is about implementing specific improvements to post consent processes: a more careful consideration of their effective operation in practical terms to enable officers and developers to see how processes can be altered to lead to better maintenance of quality.

Beyond these more practical and system/resource-related suggestions, there is also a need to widen the conversation about development mechanisms and design quality.  The research focused predominantly on local authority practice, but bringing forward successful, high quality – development is clearly enhanced by successful collaboration between local authorities, communities and developers. Greater understanding of the post-consent journey from the perspective of all players is needed, and moreover, needed to address wider issues of trust between players best manifested in concerns about whether post-consent change is sought is for legitimate and justifiable reasons.

The team were delighted and honoured to win this year’s Royal Town Planning Institute’s Sir Peter Hall Award for Research Excellence for this piece of research, praising it for its strong practice relevance.  The team is also currently exploring further research to look at practice and outcomes across the four nations of the UK.

The research report can be downloaded via:


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New report by WHO Europe examines the urban redevelopment of contaminated sites

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By Danni Sinnett and Issy Bray

Across Europe there is a vast legacy of contaminated sites from past industrial, commercial and military activity, waste disposal, mineral extraction and other uses. WHO Europe published a report examining the Urban redevelopment of contaminated sites, which summarises the findings from an expert discussion which considered a review of the evidence on environmental and health impacts of remediation, a suite of European redevelopment case studies and a reflection on the applicability of impact assessment tools during remediation and redevelopment processes.

Redevelopment of part of the South Crofty tin-copper mine in Cornwall to provide sustainable housing, a heritage centre and community space.

This blog focuses on the findings from our evidence review commissioned by WHO Europe. The review sought to answer the question: to what extent does the remediation and subsequent redevelopment of contaminated sites reduce environmental and health risks to new and existing populations and ecological systems, and are there any effects on equity in terms of the distribution of risks and outcomes or the identification of disadvantaged groups either pre- or post-remediation?

A search strategy was developed that brought together three sets of terms related to: the contaminants (e.g. lead, polyaromatic hydrocarbons) and land uses (e.g. mining, industrial); remediation and redevelopment; and the outcomes related to health (e.g. mortality, cancer). A search of standard academic databases resulted in 6903 papers. The titles and abstracts of these were then screened based on whether they reported changes in outcomes related to the environment or human health, in either new or existing populations, as a result of the remediation and, where possible, subsequent redevelopment of contaminated sites.

The vast majority of studies report soil and water concentrations, outcomes related to ecotoxicological or human health, or risk assessments pre-remediation, the findings from laboratory or field-scale experiments testing the efficacy of remediation technologies, the results of studies that model exposure or provide commentaries or reviews of remediation technologies. This meant that only 50 papers met the criteria for full-text screening.

In total sixteen papers based on outcomes related to health were taken forward to evidence synthesis:

  • Three studies that examine the outcomes related to the health of new residents following remediation and redevelopment of contaminated sites;
  • Nine studies that examine the outcomes related to the health of children in existing neighbourhoods previously exposed to lead (n=8) and chromium (n=1) following remediation and public health campaigns to reduce exposure (e.g. by removing hand to mouth behaviour in children, improved hygiene and home cleaning);
  • Four studies that examine the outcomes related to the health in existing populations following remediation of contaminated sites.

Most of these studies were set in the United Sites and focused on reductions in blood lead concentrations in children, following a combination of soil remediation and/or public health campaigns to reduce exposure. Two further studies examined the impacts of remediation on soil contaminated with chromium and sediments contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Some studies suggest that soil cover alone is not sufficient without an excavation of contaminated surface soils to prevent upward migration, and area-wide remediation is required to prevent recontamination of residential gardens. Although it appears that soil remediation is largely responsible for the declines in soil, water, dust and blood concentrations, there is also consistent evidence that public health campaigns are effective at reducing exposure pathways where existing populations are present.

Wapping Wharf in Bristol is a mixed-use development on the site of a former goal, timber and coal yard.

The evidence suggests that remediation via removal, capping, and replacing soil, with planting vegetation on bare soils is effective at reducing concentrations of lead and chromium in blood and urine in children, although this approach to remediation is not considered sustainable. Very few of the studies explicitly considered equity in their study design or reporting of outcomes, despite it being widely reported in the environmental justice literature that disadvantaged groups are more likely to live near contaminated sites.

The review considered a further 31 studies related to environmental outcomes following full-scale remediation and/or redevelopment of contaminated sites. Eighteen studies examined various environmental outcomes following remediation of inorganic contaminants, including metals and metalloids, and asbestos, mainly through removal and/or capping of soil and thirteen studies examined the environmental outcomes following remediation of organic contaminants including pesticides, PCBs, total petroleum hydrocarbons and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

The nature of research and development of remediation methods for contaminated land mean that there are very few studies in the academic literature that report on the outcomes related to human and environmental health following full scale remediation. Instead, the literature focuses on laboratory and pilot studies, with the results of long-term monitoring programmes tending to not be available in the public domain. In addition, the report summarises other limitations in the evidence and provides recommendations to improve the quality of evidence.

Overall, the review found that there is consistent evidence that, when best practice is employed, remediation of contaminated soils is effective at reducing both direct and indirect exposure to pollution in nearby populations and for reducing environmental risk.

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