What are we doing?
Our research is divided into five work packages:
- Inside the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework
- Community experience and expertise
- Counter-cartography: mapping alternative spatial values
- Participatory planning and the New Urban Agenda
- Working across boundaries: competing and contesting knowledge claims in the academy
Inside the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (2017-2018)
The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) is a joint plan for Greater Manchester intended to provide the land for jobs and new homes across the city region. Greater Manchester is a city-region comprised of ten individual local authorities in North West England (Manchester, Salford, Trafford, Bolton, Bury, Wigan, Oldham, Tameside, Rochdale and Stockport). The focus on Greater Manchester is of particular interest in the UK as the first English city-region to negotiate a devolution deal with central government in 2014. The GMSF was initiated by planners themselves in order to address a lack of strategic regional policy, following the dissolution of the regional tier of English governance. Initially the plan was developed informally to discuss waste and infrastructure, but it soon became clear that a more formal spatial plan would be required in order to designate housing allocations in each district. This was the first time that the local authorities had collaborated on a joint spatial plan, and, in the context of institutional flux and uncertain boundaries and legitimacy, it was seen as an important test-bed for the new governance arrangements. The development of the plan began prior to the election of the first metropolitan mayor, Andy Burnham in May 2017. However, the high level of dissatisfaction with the draft GMSF, with the majority of the 27,000 responses contesting the plan, led to a commitment by Burnham to a ‘radical rewrite’.
Our research is based around elite interviews with senior planners and decision-makers during the period of the ‘radical rewrite’ between 2017-2018. Our focus was on the agency, practices and messy institutional configurations of planners, to enable an exploration of how spatial planning is made in the context of devolution and the consequences for community expertise.
Community experience and expertise (2018-2019)
Working with independent researcher Mark Burton, the research engaged community groups mobilising around the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and other local planning processes to understand their experiences of plan-making. As community groups, campaigners and concerned citizens we have a lot to say about the plans that councils and developers have for where we live and work. But how good are the makers of plans, proposals and consultations at listening to, and hearing our voices and making effective use of the particular knowledge and experience that we can contribute? Following interviews with decision-makers the project also undertook a workshop, practice studies and a documentary review to find out how the expertise of local citizens and campaigners is valued and is allowed to influence decisions.
Our workshop asked how the process of consultation allows local groups to share their expertise and knowledge? Outside formal consultations, how well is local knowledge appreciated and used to improve plans, proposals and decisions? What sorts of expertise are valued, obscured or excluded?
Alternative approaches are needed to visibilise and value different perspectives and expertise about space. Inspired by counter-cartographic practices, we worked with artists/creative facilitators and citizens to coproduce maps and spatial representations of spatial planning issues in neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester. In Spring 2019, we worked with a community group in the Manchester neighbourhood of Miles Platting, to map their knowledge about what matters for local planning. This process produced a collaborative exhibition, jointly organised with participants involved in the map-making, with an invitation to those visiting the exhibition to contribute to a people's map of Manchester. The exhibition coincided with the commemorations of the Peterloo Massacre in Spring-Summer 2019 and was part of Manchester Histories' Peterloo 2019 programme.
Participatory planning and the New Urban Agenda (2018-2019)
Goal 11 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals commits signatories to
Enhancing inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries (SDG 11).
With match funding from Mistra Urban Futures we developed a collaboration with a research project funded by the Swedish organisation, Formas on the Impact of Participation. With researcher Dr Nazem Tahvilzadeh, we organised two panel discussions – one at the UK and Ireland Planning Conference and one at the Realising Just Cities conference in Cape Town – to discuss international perspectives on what ‘true’ participation looks like. We met again in 2019 to identify common messages and differences from our case studies about how SDG 11’s aspirations for participatory planning land in the contexts of Sweden and the UK.
In thinking about whose knowledge matters academics need to be reflexive about the limits to their own knowledge claims. This workpackage enabled the consolidation of intellectual agendas around reflexivity, the relationship between knowledge and action, and the changing role of universities in relation to urban transformation. In addition to the production of high quality publications, we sought to create spaces for debate amongst urban scholars around the values of and for their research. What does the idea of contesting knowledge claims for sustainable urban development mean for our own practice as academics?
Our work enabled a systemic exploration of reflexivity, the relationship between knowledge and action and the changing roles of universities in urban development.