Infrastructure and Spatial Planning

Research summary

Tim Marshall is completing a research project on Infrastructure and Spatial Planning. This was funded under an ESRC research fellowship (award RES-063-27-0157). This fellowship ran from September 2008 to November 2010.

The aim of the project was to develop knowledge and theorisation of the way in which infrastructure planning and spatial planning relate to each other. This was based on research on European case studies, as well as on the developing situation in the UK, with the focus primarily on England. The original short statement on the project can be seen by clicking here.

The research project funding period is now ending. Some details of the whole project are given here, and more can be obtained by contacting Tim Marshall directly.

Project fieldwork and analysis

A major part of the research project energy went into the fieldwork, in two different guises.

The main part was the study of infrastructure planning in the four European case studies. In some cases this took longer than had been hoped, given difficulties in setting up interviews. Broadly speaking, between December 2008 and October 2009 I was engaged in arranging, carrying out and writing up the studies of the Netherlands, France and Spain. The fourth study I had intended to do directly after these, but the German federal elections of October 2009 made this problematic, with all ministries subject to major change at the top. So this was delayed until May-August 2010.

The other part of the research strategy involved a proposal to carry out vertical studies of infrastructure planning in England, ranging down from work at national level to regions and to selected localities. Parts of this schema proved to be problematic, given the high uncertainty and change in the planning system at all levels by mid 2009 – and even more so as the months went by. It was decided that the regional and local components would simply not deliver useful results. The UK elements of the programme therefore consisted of the intended work at national level for the UK, and an extra study of Scotland. The national UK elements themselves divided into two main parts. One was a study reaching back to the 1940s of how major infrastructure had been planned, examining each sector in some depth. The other was a study of how the 2008 Planning Act came to be passed, requiring examination of pressures over more than 20 years previously. These were both carried out and written up as working papers between October 2009 and April 2010. Finally it was decided that the Scottish experience of devising a new system of national spatial planning and major infrastructure decision making would merit inclusion in the programme, and this was carried out in August-September 2010.

A remaining part of the programme, intended to be a continuing theme but not a major focus of fieldwork, has been the question of EU significance in this field. This has been visible throughout work in the country studies (least so for UK-England), and will be capped with a final phase of examination of current proposed reforms to EU transport and energy sectors, especially of Trans European Networks in each field (TEN-T and TEN-E). There are signs that these reforms, associated with both liberalisation (of rail systems and in the third energy package) and low carbon drives, may increase EU transnational planning force in these two fields. This would replicate already existing direct influence in the waste and water fields. The call is for a more strategic influence on the development of energy and transport systems, not just an accumulation of nationally nominated projects. This is seen to be essential by many experts to have a chance of achieving low carbon progress, and security of supply goals for energy. Remaining fieldwork will it is hoped clarify if this is really happening.

Project dissemination and reception

There have been three main modes of dissemination, each giving chances for exchange of views and increasing understandings of change in this field.

Sounding board meetings

The sounding board set up at the start of the project has proved to be of real value. Three formal meetings have been held, in June 2009, April 2010 and November 2010, with some other informal contact at times. These have been enormously useful in allowing these occasional stock takes, reporting progress and getting feedback from experts in both academic and practice fields.

Conferences and seminars

These have included international conferences (AESOP in 2009 and 2010), national conferences (Britain and Ireland Planning Research Conference 2009 and 2010) and various seminars in Britain throughout the project, at university planning schools by and large. One presentation at a consultancy / industry event in April 2010 provided a different forum, at a time of considerable business interest in the coming into operation of the new system in England following the 2008 Planning Act.

A larger event devoted purely to this topic was organised in conjunction with the Town and Country Planning Association in March 2010. This included presentations by a representative of the government ministry, Communities and Local Government, on National Policy Statements, by the deputy chair of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, Dr Pauleen Lane, and by the advisor to the Parliamentary Select Committeeson Energy and Ports NPSs, Kelvin MacDonald, as well as by Tim Marshall. The event was attended by about 50 people, from a wide range of backgrounds, including infrastructure companies, local government, consultancies, government departments, NGOs and universities.


Publication has up to the present been mainly in the form of working papers placed on these webpages. These will shortly include all the country studies, including UK-England and Scotland. Short articles appeared in Town and Country Planning journal between September 2009 and January 2010, as a way of getting ideas out quickly to a wider than academic public, on the European studies.

Work on academic journal article publication is in progress, and as soon as articles have been accepted, they will appear on these pages.

A contract for a book based on the research programme is being signed with Routledge, with a delivery date of September 2011. The book will frame the whole research within the historical and geographical dimensions which are seen as essential to understanding the significance of major infrastructure in the present era. “Infastructuralism” is living a strong moment in these years, and it is hoped that the book will be of quite wide interest, in academic and practical spheres.

Research results

The results of the research are available at present only in a provisional form. The following provisional elements of conclusions were added in November 2010:

  • two summary documents, giving some headline points emerging from the international and historical work, and provisional answers to the research questions to be found in the project bid;
  • some power point presentations prepared for various purposes recently.

More substantial results will come as the articles are published over the next year or more, and with the publication of the book at a later date.

As always, I would be very interested to hear reactions to these provisional results, and to any other working paper content placed here.

Project Material

The working papers can be seen in the right hand column. They deal with the research on the Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany, Scotland and England. In most cases separate short conclusion documents are given for rapid access.

Short statement on research project prepared at the start of the project

Tim Marshall's research fellowship addresses the relationship between the planning of infrastructure and the planning of territories. Growth pressures in many European countries mean that the expansion of infrastructure is high on government agendas. Spatial planning is also seen as of critical importance, especially at national and regional scales. There are aspirations to bring these forms of planning together, with reforms proposed in Britain in 2008. However this is a large challenge, given the developments of the last two decades, including (variably between countries) privatisation of most infrastructure industries, weakening of state powers and finances, and requirements additional to those of growth, such as that to address climate change.

The research will have two main empirical phases, one examining how these challenges are being met in four European states (France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain), the other focusing on developments in England. Outputs will include ongoing interaction with a sounding board group of practitioners and academics, several feedback and discussion seminars, and publications issued as the research progresses. Relevant outputs will be placed on the project's webpage at the Department of Planning, Oxford Brookes University, where full details of the research will be available. See longer excerpts from the original bid for project funding.

Sounding Board Group


John Glasson
Oxford Brookes University
Jamie Gough
Sheffield University
Graham Haughton
Hull University
Greg Lloyd
University of Ulster
Simon Marvin
Salford University
Peter Newman
Westminster University
Erik Swyngedouw
Manchester University

Non academics

Tony Baden
Planning consultant, ex planning ministry official
Hugh Ellis
Friends of the Earth
Roger Levett
Planning consultant, Levett-Therivel
Eike Ndiweni- Mueller
Communities and Local Government
Tim Stansfeld
Corinne Swain
Planning consultant, Arup


Dr Tim Marshall

Spatial Planning Group

Department of Planning
Oxford Brookes University
Headington Campus
Gipsy Lane
Oxford, UK

Tel: +44 (0)1865 483400
Fax: +44 (0)1865 483559