Research areas of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments (SPE)

We are a multi-disciplinary group of researchers interested in the planning, design, use and governance of places at different scales. We undertake research in four inter-related themes:

  • Sustainable Urban Environments
  • Governance of Place
  • Planning Theory, Policy and Practice
  • Smart Cities Transforming Governance.

For more information about the research themes, please e-mail Dr Danielle Sinnett (

Sustainable Urban Environments

We are interested in what sustainable urban environments are and how they can be achieved.

Successful places

Our research provides evidence on the relationship between the physical environment and a number of sustainable outcomes. We are developing understanding of what makes places (homes, streets, neighbourhoods, public spaces, cities and city-regions) successful environmentally, socially and economically.

We frequently investigate different stakeholders' perspectives of urban environments, and our research deals with the acceptability, practicality and feasibility of different urban forms and designs.

Research topics

Research topics under the theme of sustainable urban environments include:

  • Designing places to support sustainable lifestyles and behaviours
  • Sustainable neighbourhood design
  • Adapting urban and suburban areas for climate change
  • Green infrastructure and the role of green space in climate change
  • Sustainable urban form - compact cities, urban densities and intensification, and brownfield development
  • Users’ experiences of urban environments, including children and older people
  • Inclusive design
  • Design policy (eg historic and urban environments and tall buildings)
  • Sustainable development discourses and narratives 


See projects under the Sustainable Urban Environments theme 

Governance of Place

Changing concepts of space

Framed by an interest in changing concepts of space, territory, and governance in the built environment, researchers contribute to contemporary debates and challenges relating to the planning and leadership of communities.

By examining experiences with different approaches to the governance of place in different countries and localities, researchers contribute fresh ideas and insights. Scholars employ a range of research frameworks and actively engage with users' key interests and stakeholders to produce meaningful, timely and useful research, analysis and advice.

Research topics

Current research within this theme spans a range of topics including:

  • Place-based leadership
  • European policy for sustainable cities
  • Multi-level governance and relational approaches to the politics of space and scale
  • Urban regeneration and community involvement
  • Creation, interaction and framing of spatial policies, institutions and structures
  • Integrated urban management and the use of ICT in urban planning and governance
  • Engagement, collaboration and participation in urban management and spatial planning


See projects under the Governance of Place theme

Planning Theory, Policy and Practice

This research theme encompasses both theoretical and practice-based aspects of planning.

The role of planning

Research undertaken within this theme broadly addresses the following questions:

  • What is the role of planning in modern society?
  • What is the role(s) of the planner in creating more sustainable places?
  • How can planning achieve more sustainable places through policy and practical exercise of power?

It includes issues of ethics, values, knowledge, power and professionalism, as well as policy development, planning law and the UK spatial planning system.

Research topics

Research topics include:

  • Planning theory and ideology
  • UK spatial planning system
  • Discursive framing and development of planning policy
  • Planning law, plan making and delivery
  • Planning for growth
  • Participation in planning


See projects under the Planning Theory, Policy and Practice theme

Smart Cities Transforming Governance

Urban governance across Europe’s cities and regions, seeking to create healthy and sustainable cities, faces multiple challenges of management complexity, democratic deficit, and dwindling resources.

Our smart city applied governance research, driven by multi-disciplinary pan-European collaboration aims to harness the power of social and technology innovation to transform the effective management of the city and spatial decision making.

Research topics

Research topics under the theme of Smart Cities Transforming Governance include:

  • developing conceptual frames for transformational governance integrating top-down and bottom-up engagement in decision-making in collaboration with our European city partners;
  • supporting development of open governance based on co-production and collaborative forms of service design and delivery;
  • enabling and empowering citizens and business to actively participate in the design, creation and delivery of open governance;
  • promoting stakeholder engagement in the specification of user requirements for transformational governance, and the evaluation of alternative solutions for both user and technology;
  • developing common, generic and modular urban governance solutions defining new business models for our industry partners.


View projects under the Smart Cities Transforming Governance theme

Research projects of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments

Current and past projects of the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments.

Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments (SPE)

Our aim is to develop understanding of how to achieve places that are environmentally sustainable, socially just and economically competitive.