MSc Planning news highlights

Planning the future of Planning Aid England in the South West

In January, 2018, students on the PLG503 Research Methods reported the results of surveys commissioned by Planning Aid England (PAE) in the South West, part of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). The aim of the research was to examine the awareness of PAE services in the South West amongst local planning authorities, ward councillors and Coastal Community Teams (CCTs) within the top 20 per cent most deprived Lower Super Output Areas in England and to identify the types of outreach work that would best support local communities and groups in the region over the next five years. PAE provides free and independent professional planning advice, which is delivered by around 300 volunteers across the country.

Jo Widdecombe and Katie Graham from the Task Group attended a presentation of results. Three main conclusions arise from the analysis of the results. First, awareness of PAE amongst the stakeholder groups appeared to be relatively low, apart from LPAs, where a total of 60 per cent had used PAE services largely to support neighbourhood planning. Second, all three stakeholder groups felt that PAE might most usefully assist deprived communities through direct, face-to-face support rather than remote web-based or printed materials. Third, there was a recognition that, while community engagement in planning was a function of available resources, participation could be very selective with too much reliance placed on web sites and emails, which stakeholders felt did not provide real in-depth debate and consensus.

On the basis of these findings, the Task Group has recognised the need to raise the profile of PAE in the region and to encourage more volunteers to get involved. Such engagement with the communities across the South West can only be delivered through ‘show casing’ what PAE does best: providing free independent professional planning advice!

Below: MSc Planning students at the University of Plymouth during the presentation of their research findings to Planning Aid England on 18 January, 2018. From left to right: Peter Lambert, Ed Crome, Naomi Jackson, Hannah Miller, Joseph Smithyman, Carlotta Molfese, Rupert Warwick, Jo Widdecombe (PAE), Katherine Graham (PAE), Philip Twamley, Oliver Thorogood and Katherine Collins.

Planning students on fieldwork 2017-18

Field visits to a number of relevant destinations in South West England, where students had the opportunity to engage with practitioners about a range of planning-related projects. The main growth points in Plymouth and its urban fringe (Sherford, Langage Energy Park, Plymouth airport, and the regeneration of North Prospect) were visited to demonstrate the integration of sustainable development into new development projects. A range of housing developments in Plymouth were also evaluated using the Building for Life criteria as part of the urban design module. The delivery of major infrastructural projects were discussed with visits to the emerging Derriford Community Park, Forder Valley link road and the redevelopment of the City Museum (the ’Box’). Various urban waterfront regeneration schemes, such as the redevelopment of the Devonport South Yard (Oceansgate), Sutton Harbour and resort regeneration in Teignmouth, were also visited.

Inside the Langage Energy Centre, opened in 2010 and designed to improve the energy security of the city using the latest and most efficient combined cycle gas turbines. While being a significant infrastructural project for the south west economy, the construction of the power station posed a number of planning and urban design challenges due to its location on the edge of Plymouth, close to areas of outstanding natural beauty in South Devon and Dartmoor.

Preparing a development brief for a site adjacent to 'The Box'

With the redevelopment of Plymouth’s City Museum into a new flagship cultural destination, to be known as ‘The Box’, by 2020, students on PLG504 Development Management and Delivery module were asked to consider the potential regeneration opportunities for the adjacent land blocks as an assignment exercise. Many of the existing buildings are in a poor condition and could have new alternative uses with a higher value once the Box is opened. In a number of small groups, the students devised new visions for the area considering mixed land uses (including residential, hotels and art workshop spaces) as well as public realm enhancements, within feasibility and viability considerations. 

MSc Planning dissertation research published in academic journals

A number of MSc Planning students have been successful in publishing the research undertaken in their dissertation project in refereed academic journals. Craig Leger’s research investigated the characteristics of brownfield land in English coastal communities and the challenges faced by planning in the regeneration of these sites through an analysis of the National Land Use Database and a survey of Heads of Planning Service. Sarah Dyke analysed community perceptions towards wind power to test current debates about pre- and post-acceptance opinions of affected stakeholders. Jamie Staples focused on the delivery of bespoke housing for families with severely disabled children and found that better communication between developers and planners was a critical first step in meeting the requirements. These outputs provide external endorsement of the high quality of research undertaken on the programme at Plymouth.

LEGER, C., BALCH, C. & ESSEX, S. (2016) Understanding the planning challenges of brownfield development in coastal urban areas of England, Planning Practice and Research, 31 (2), pp.119-131. doi:

WILSON, G. & DYKE, S. (2016) Pre- and post-installation community perceptions of wind farm projects: the case of Roskrow Barton (Cornwall, UK), Land Use Policy, 52, 287–296. doi:

STAPLES, J. & ESSEX, S. (2016) Design, disability and the planning challenge: the reality of living with severely disabled children, Planning Practice and Research, 31 (3), pp.327-346. doi:

MSc Planning students visit Cranbrook New Town

Students visited staff at the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point on 8 October 2013 to witness progress with the design and construction of the new town at Cranbrook on the outskirts of Exeter. The development is part of three urban extensions planned for Exeter to bring growth to the east of the city based around the SkyPark, A30 up-grade and Science Park. The initial concept for the new town was proposed in 1991, but the first residents moved in during 2012. Students visited St Martin’s School, which opened in September 2012 to provide primary and nursery spaces for new residents and was funded by a Section 106 agreement. They also visited the District Heating Centre, which will heat all homes in the new settlement and contribute towards the zero carbon goal, and the Neighbourhood Centre, which will act as town hall, library and doctor’s surgery as well as the home of the Community Forum. By 2026, it is expected that Cranbrook will have 6,000 houses and a population of 15,000.

RTPI Regional Chair 2014: Professor Chris Balch of the University of Plymouth

Professor Chris Balch has been appointed RTPI Regional Chair of the South West Branch during 2014. One of his main responsibilities has been to plan and chair 11 CPD seminars, including sessions on neighbourhood planning, innovations in stakeholder engagement, planning for renewable energy, place making and managing change in coastal communities. His leadership also coincides with the centenary of the RTPI with planned events including public debates on key issues in planning (in Plymouth and Bristol), a concert in Exeter Cathedral and a regional competition for schools on the achievements of planning in the South West over the last one hundred years.

MSc Planning student represents Malta at the Eurovision Song Contest

MSc Planning student Samaria Bezzina represented Malta in the Eurovision Song Contest on 18 May 2013, as one of the backing singers supporting her brother, Gianluca. They received 120 points overall and were placed eighth in the competition, watched by 135 million people worldwide – which makes presenting an in-class seminar rather less daunting! 

Sam said “Eurovision was truly a great experience and I'm glad I had the opportunity to be part of it.

The Making of a Modern City

The exhibition on ‘The Making of a Modern City’, which ran from 27 April to 29 June 2013 at the City Museum and Art Gallery as part of the inaugural Plymouth History Festival, was part-assisted by Mark Brayshay and Stephen Essex. It was staged to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Professor Sir Patrick Abercrombie and James Paton-Watson's 'Plan for Plymouth' (1943) and delved into the archives to reveal the documents, plans and politics that shaped Plymouth in the immediate post-war period. Mark and Stephen wrote the draft text for the exhibition using their own research publications into the topic. This collaboration with the Plymouth and West Devon Records Office has opened new research avenues on these themes with the discovery of audio recordings of interviews with two of the main actors made in the mid-1970s (James Paton Watson, City Engineer and Surveyor and Sir Colin Campbell, Town Clerk).

RTPI President visits Plymouth

Dr Peter Gerahty (RTPI President, 2013-14) met students on the MSc Planning programme on 25 April 2013 during his tour of the South West of England. His presidential campaign is to celebrate planning as a positive force for promoting the public interest.

After his visit, Peter wrote: "It was a great day today. I enjoyed meeting staff and students and wish you and the course every success. I was impressed with all I saw."

Examination of Dawlish Neighbourhood Plan

Following research on community expectations of neighbourhood planning in the South West, Professor Balch was approached by Teignbridge District Council as part of their bid for front runner status for the Dawlish Neighbourhood Plan, aimed at delivering an enhanced level of community involvement with the preparation of the District’s Core Strategy. Following an intensive programme of engagement with the local community, the Neighbourhood Planning Steering Group submitted a draft Plan for Examination. This approach was tested by Professor Balch, based on examination of relevant documentation, including extensive consultation responses and a local hearing. The resultant report, which was the first into a Neighbourhood Plan, attracted a great deal of professional and media interest. While the Dawlish exercise can be viewed as a ‘one-off’ which failed to meet the specific requirements of the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations, the process provided valuable learning points for subsequent Examinations.

First MSc Planning students graduate

Craig Leger, Ros Baker, Sarah Dyke, Kathryn Waldron, Tammy Burden, Jamie Staples and Hollie Nicholls were the first cohort of graduates from MSc Planning.

Graduation ceremony, Plymouth Hoe, 18 September 2013