ESRC CASE Studentship: Greening Neighbourhood Plans: Integrating Green Infrastructure into Community-led Planning

The University of Manchester

Project Description

This full time, 1+3 PhD studentship, starting in September 2017, is fully funded by the ESRC CASE studentship scheme (ESRC NWSSDTP), together with the University of Manchester, University of Liverpool and the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA).

CASE studentships involve a PhD student working in partnership with an organisation to undertake a study which is designed to be relevant to the organisation. This creates an invaluable opportunity for students to undertake PhD research which bridges academic and professional concerns, having a direct impact in a professional context whilst also producing a PhD thesis.

This PhD, Greening Neighbourhood Plans: Integrating green infrastructure into community-led planning’ will work with TCPA to explore the role of green infrastructure within developing neighbourhood plans in England. It will work with local communities, environmental and planning experts to examine how the socio-economic and ecological values of green infrastructure planning can be used to improve the sustainability credentials of neighbourhood plans. The first year of the studentship will be undertaken as an MSc in Research Methods at the University of Manchester. The subsequent three years of the PhD will be jointly supervised through Planning and Environmental Management, University of Manchester (Dr Ian Mell and Dr Anna Gilchrist), Geography and Planning, University of Liverpool (Dr John Sturzaker) and TCPA (Julia Thrift).

The studentship project

Green Infrastructure (GI) refers to the interconnected network of green and blue spaces, which together provide vital services that benefit society. These benefits including improving human health and enhancing quality of life (Diaz et al., 2015), reducing the impacts of climate change in urban environments (Gill et al, 2008), increasing land values and enhancing social inclusion (Beatley, 2016). 

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and the academic community both now assert that GI should be recognised as a ‘critical’ infrastructure that should be integrated into spatial planning systems in a comparable way to other ‘grey infrastructure’ (TCPA and WT, 2012; Roe and Mell, 2013). However, one of the key challenges for the planning and implementation of green infrastructure is identifying the appropriate scale for implementation (Gilchrist et al., 2016). Individual GI components are implemented at a neighbourhood scale, and importantly, the value placed on these is often only recognised at the very local level. This means that landscape management at the neighbourhood scale is critical to sustaining and strengthening the GI network.

There is, however, no accepted mechanism for capturing the local-level knowledge of GI at micro-scales. This is vitally important if the values of GI to local communities are to be established. The lack of neighbourhood assessments of GI is a key knowledge gap that this studentship will address. By developing innovative methodologies in the ‘neighbourhood planning’ process the PhD will co-produce a detailed contribution to our understanding of GI praxis.

Whilst the design, planning and implementation of GI is critical at the neighbourhood scale, the impact of GI extends well beyond this. Within the UK, GI to be embedded in planning delivery in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), and local planning policies as a formal requirement of Local Development Plans. However, Localism Act have facilitated a significant transfer of responsibility from the national to the local/neighbourhood levels, with the intention that the micro-scale can develop context-specific measures to plan sustainable and prosperous communities (DCLG, 2011). Unfortunately, a significant knowledge gap in both the academic and policy literature remains demonstrating how small-scale GI planning can be implemented. This is a second knowledge gap this studentship will address. By demonstrating the way in which existing neighbourhood plans address GI it will develop techniques that can be used to support neighbourhood plan development.

Significant questions also exist about the ability of the UK planning system to incorporate the scope of landscape change needed to successfully embed GI into planning practices. In the absence of detailed direction from national government, the role of planning guidance becomes particularly important. Critically, the TCPA, are driving the integration of GI into UK planning structures/instruments and have identified a pressing need for GI guidance focussing on neighbourhood planning. This is a third gap that this studentship will address, by developing guidance and recommendations to embed GI into the neighbourhood planning process.

Research Aims and Objectives

The aim of this research is to examine how GI can be sustained and enhanced through the neighbourhood planning process to determine whether this scale can meet strategic planning aims including the delivery of ecosystem services that benefit larger spatial scales.

This will be met by addressing the following objectives:

  1. To establish the current positioning of GI in the neighbourhood planning process and use this to develop a conceptual framing for the research;
  2. To work with the TCPA to identify expert perspectives on the opportunities and challenges to effective GI integration into neighbourhood planning;
  3. To develop innovative methodologies that can capture the values of GI at neighbourhood scales and communicate the benefits experienced at larger spatial scales
  4. To develop guiding principles and recommendations that align with the needs of decision-makers, planning practitioners and local communities, which encourage GI to be sustained and enhanced at neighbourhood scales and that its influence is extended at larger spatial scales

Person specification

Applicants must hold (or be in their final year of) a Bachelor’s degree equivalent to a First Class or Upper Second Class Honours UK degree, with a coursework/examination average of 60% or more and a dissertation mark of 60% or more (with no mark below 50%) in a relevant social science (planning, landscape, environmental management, geography, or cognisant discipline).

Candidates will need to use their Bachelor’s degree and/or other relevant experience to demonstrate background knowledge of the debates surrounding urban and landscape planning, participation in decision-making and environmental practices in the UK.

Candidates must satisfy the ESRC's academic and residential eligibility requirements and be UK (full award) or EU citizens (fees only). Find out more about eligibility here.

Financial support

The ESRC CASE studentship and the support from the University of Manchester covers the academic fees of £5,500 (see above about residential eligibility) and provides an annual stipend (£14,553 in 2017, exact rate for 2018 subject to confirmation from the RCUK). The TCPA will provide analysis and expertise in green infrastructure/green space and urban planning, desk space at their London offices (tbc) during relevant stages of the research, and digital/hard copy resources. The studentship will require the student to work with the TCPA (and the UoM/UoL supervisory team) on discreet research projects/issues cognisant to the PhD research programme.

Further information

Enquiries about the vacancy, shortlisting, interviews, etc. should be directed to Dr Ian Mell or Dr Anna Gilchrist.

The successful applicant will be required to submit a full application for a PhD in Planning and Environmental Management, University of Manchester.

Interviews are expected to take place in Manchester on 21st February 2018. Candidates invited for interview are expected to cover their own travel expenses.


Apply by 2nd February 2018 5pm GMT by emailing the following:

  • A full academic CV: including two named referees (one of whom should be your most recent academic tutor/supervisor).
  • A copy of your first degree transcripts (or anticipated grade if degree is ongoing).
  • A letter of application (not exceeding two pages – font Arial - size 11) outlining your suitability for the CASE studentship and how you would anticipate approaching the research.