Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Housing Development, Design & Regeneration’ Category

Five steps to make children’s rights a reality in the Scottish planning system

The Scottish planning system is soon to undergo reform. Here, Dr Jenny Wood identifies five ways Scottish Government can improve children’s participation in the planning process, and the environments it shapes and manages.

Read more

Can we plan for and with children?

Jenny Wood discusses how the Scottish planning system can be improved for children and young people.

Read more

Ten steps to increasing housing supply in England

I-SPHERE Housing Economist Glen Bramley gives his ‘Ten Point Plan’ for increasing housing supply in England.

Read more

All in the mind?

Can we change the way people use their cars by understanding the reasons behind their behaviour? Emma Mbabazi writes about her PhD research.

Read more

The Welfare Wall

To date assessments of the current UK welfare reforms have generally been ‘static’ and examine the consequences of each reform in isolation. Impacts are then often overstated and fail to analyse how reforms will inter-act with one another.

Read more

Overhaul the planning system to boost building of better homes


Republished from The Conversation UK

As a planning academic you might think that I get heavily involved in the planning system – commenting on draft development plans, or objecting to proposed developments – but actually I tend to steer clear of this. Recently, however, Read more

Seminars: Social capital, sustainable homes

We have two IHURER seminars this week, Wednesday afternoon and Friday lunchtime.  Read more

Planning for people, for adults, or just for economic growth?

Town planning began as a service to people, and its social roots continue to drive it towards this goal. This kind of language infiltrates plans and policies throughout the UK, but in the messy political world of planning, who makes up the ‘people’ for whom we plan? Read more

Protection ‘for’ or protection ‘from’? Children in town planning

“Children are the future” and “Let’s do it for the kids”. These are the kind of phrases you often hear when talking of the legacy we wish to leave our planet, but what if children are just as much citizens of the present as they are the future?

Read more

BANANA NIMBYism – Planning research as stand-up comedy

Jenny Wood is a postgraduate student on the MRes Urban Studies Research programme and has started her PhD into the value of children’s engagement in the planning process. Watch how she turned her research into a fantastic comedy show at the famous The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh.

Read more

What does your office window view do for you?

IHURER PhD researcher Kathryn Gilchrist discusses some of the findings from her ESRC-funded research on the value of workplace greenspace for employee health and wellbeing.

Read more

We need sustainable neighbourhoods as well as affordable housing

James MorganJames Morgan, Lecturer and Director of Studies at IHURER, applauds efficiency in the building of affordable homes but cautions that there’s also a place for local control and a need for sustainable neighbourhoods

Read more

Housing study through Chinese eyes

Fei ZhengFei Zheng is not only a part-time student in the MSc Housing and Real Estate programme; she is also working in a Housing Association as a trainee housing officer.  This gave her the opportunity to learn more about social housing, both as a practitioner and as an academic.

I am originally from Beijing and my academic background is in Construction Management.  I also have several years of work experience in Quantity Surveying, Renewable Energy and Green Building within China and the UK.   Having spent most of my life in Beijing I have seen China undergo rapid change, including the construction of many high-rise buildings as well as buildings with exotic designs, all of which continues to change the look and feel of cities like Beijing.  This situation has created many challenges as well as exciting opportunities in housing and real estate. With all the changes going on, China continues to attract an increasing amount of attention from the rest of the world, and it is interesting to see how China is perceived from the UK.

When I first came to the UK I experienced culture shock, but quickly adapted and began to enjoy the life here, and I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to compare what I know about China with the UK.  From my studies I have begun to think about how features of the UK housing system could be used in China, especially as the Chinese state media spends a lot of time talking about social housing in China. Furthermore, with the widespread use of micro blogging sites like Weibo, people now discuss social issues more freely in China.

My opportunity to study at Heriot-Watt University came from a programme through PATH (Scotland)’s positive action project which is to help people from a BME background enter into Housing and related sectors.  Over the course of my studies I have developed a firm interest in the UK’s welfare and social housing systems as they are quite different from those back home in China.

Chinese building

“I have seen China undergo rapid change, including the construction of many high-rise buildings as well as buildings with exotic designs”

I have also found that Housing is a subject which allows me to bring my previous work experience and academic knowledge together.  This course has provided me with very useful knowledge for my current employment, particularly in understanding the role of social housing.  For instance, I have learned how social housing helps to develop the local community and learned a lot about how Housing Associations operate as a charity and business at the same time.

I have really enjoyed studying Housing and Real Estate here at Heriot-Watt University.  What attracted me the most to this course was Heriot-Watt University’s strong reputation for research on the built environment and the quality of the teaching.  The courses are designed in a consistent way that is really suitable for someone like me who does not have a lot of knowledge of the UK housing system, and I was gradually introduced to basic concepts in housing finance, real estate valuation, and then housing law and practice and housing strategic and business management.   The course content combines social housing and commercial real estate which will be extremely helpful for my future career as it provides more choices for finding jobs in both social housing and the real estate industry after graduation.  The professional accreditation from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors is another attractive feature of the course.  Being recognised by these professional bodies means that I can become a student member and attend free student conferences, which allows me to make contacts with housing professionals.  Furthermore, after graduation I will become a chartered member of CIH which will assist me in finding a job in the industry.

fei zhengI have found studying at Heriot-Watt University both challenging and highly rewarding.  There is a lot of individual work as well as group work including discussions and presentations which allow you to develop a variety of skills that will be useful in the future.   For instance, last semester I worked in a group of three on a project for Sustainable Design and Development.  The three of us were from different countries but we worked together really well on the group coursework where we had to produce a design brief for a development site to our hypothetical clients.  We visited the site together, met regularly, filled in each other’s knowledge gaps, and eventually we managed to score the highest mark since the course started.  We became good friends after that as well.

What I have also enjoyed about Heriot-Watt is that the support from the academic staff is excellent.  I was assigned a mentor and was able to discuss issues relating to my studies as well as issues related to my life here in the UK which can be really helpful when adjusting to a new environment.

Currently I am thinking about what to do after the MSc.  One option I am thinking of exploring is continuing my studies at Heriot-Watt by doing a PhD in Housing.  This would allow me to further explore my interests in the UK’s social housing system.  Whether I pursue a PhD or continue working in the housing sector, my time at Heriot-Watt has been extremely useful in helping me decide to pursue a housing-related career.

Making an impact with a PhD in planning

Judith MontfordJudith Montford is doing PhD research at IHURER into the relationship between different residential layout/patterns and mental wellbeing. Here she describes how she became interested in the way our natural and built environment influences our lives.

A question anyone who wishes to a PhD should ask themselves is ‘why they want to do it’. A PhD is not to be undertaken lightly, because it is about influencing and affecting lives for their betterment. You should have a natural desire to want to work towards these goals, otherwise you will make no impact and it might be an unwise use of three years – and sometimes a bit more – of your life.

I did a MSc at Cardiff University  (Planning Practice and Research) and I enjoyed it very much because I got a good understanding of what spatial planning is all about – planning places for people to live successfully (I cannot write here what successful is, but it covers a multitude of sins, literally sometimes). I later on worked in planning practice for a short time to get some hands on experience as well. I found that my quest to know more about the places we live, by ‘doing and learning’ was insatiable.  I have always been awestruck with the way and how our natural and built environment influences our life styles or how we interact with it. Programmes like ‘The BBC human planet’ series and ‘Amazon’ by Bruce Parry  makes it all too clear how mankind relates with their environment.  Whether planned or unplanned, there is still an effect.  I once read about how the layout of slums influenced the slum dwellers social life and it was interesting to learn that what was not intentionally planned ended up being very useful in building a community.  There was a real sense of community and this was by virtue of the way the slum environment was laid out – lines and patterns.

We ‘plan’ to make lives better in essence, so being curious I wanted to find out how useful what has been planned is to us, especially our wellbeing which can be generated by having good relationships with the people we live with. Well we know it is not that straight forward, but that is what I like about this, finding out what works and how. How our environment is affecting our wellbeing. This is now part of the agenda in spatial panning to work towards positive and public health. Actually it is going back to the roots and birth of planning practice.  Interestingly an opportunity came up for a PhD research on this subject matter here at Heriot-Watt University, School of Built Environment. I applied for it and I am here now working on this research about our wellbeing and our residential environments.

Physical planning affects mental health

Physical planning affects mental health

To do a PhD, there must be a genuine interest first of all in the particular subject the research will be on. This is very important to keep you going during the difficult time which is inevitable.  There is the danger however of having a ‘tunnel vision’ of your work when you are passionate about it; however that is the time you rely on the advice of the research community. Though the research is your ‘favourite cuddly toy’ ‘outsiders can see that a rip needs to be patched before it gets ‘worse’. An objective advice is always at hand.

Research is a process. It is evolutionary, but it also oscillates a great deal and you must be prepared for this. This oscillation is challenging at most times because at every stage there are things you go through, or things that happen to test you.  It is essential that these processes, changes and challenges happen, for it makes you creative. You think more, you connect with the environment and yes – you grow and discover aspects of your person you did not know existed.

Some say the PhD process is lonely,  but this has not particularly been the case for me. Though your project is your responsibility and you have to ensure it progresses. This is in no doubt a challenge and requires hard work, but you are not alone. Research projects are acquaintances, so you are part of a whole. Also, IHURER is a community and there is support if and when you need it.  Apart from my supervisors, I have found colleagues and seniors to be very helpful, which is comforting. Apart from the support and help I get directly related to my research project, I have made friends for life. The community is also diverse and what I have learnt and continue to learn from friends has been priceless – no book or guide could have taught me this.

The IHURER research community focuses on ’real life in continuation’. This applies to all the research work being undertaken here… it is about what is really happening out there and not just ‘fantasy projects’.



What I like about being here is the fact that your professional development (not only the academic) is also taken care off. We have PhD students going away to do internships with some prominent organisations (Scottish Government, NHS) and some have secured jobs because of this. I have been given the opportunity given to help with teaching some very interesting courses. I see this as the way to go, as the PhD is for a set time but the extra you gain alongside helps to make the whole experience worth it as well as gets you ready you for the future.

I cannot say all this without saying a bit about Edinburgh – it is a beautiful city with very interesting people –robust if I am allowed to say that…. Coming from tropical Africa, I must admit that the weather here has a hard time deciding what it wants to be. It is very changeable, but that should not deter you, it is part of the experience and with everything else, it makes it worth it.

Heriot-Watt University campus itself is great for studying whether living on or off it. The environment is quiet green and there are lots of places to go for respite when needed.  The School actually won a Green Flag award for the provision of its community parks and green spaces.

The student community on campus is diverse (students from different countries all over the world) so ‘home’ is always close .  I could go on….

I consider it a blessing that I am here as part of the IHURER research family, and I am looking forward to the future. Really….it is full of promises.

IHURER is currently advertising full and part funded PhD scholarships on a variety of subjects, including Poverty and Social Exclusion, Inequalities in Access, Use and Participation within the Built Environment, International Housing Policy and many more. In addition, two scholarships linked to the ESRC large grant Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change: Understanding the Role and Impact of Welfare Conditionality are now available.  Application deadline: 30th of March

Lifelong learning from the East

Professor Mark StephensMark Stephens, Professor of Public Policy at IHURER, describes how he first became interested in the post-communist transformation of housing systems in Central and Eastern Europe.

Growing up during the cold war, “Eastern Europe,” as it was then known, was something of a mystery. In an era when travel was far less affordable than it is today and even a visit to France seemed exotic, the idea of working with people from “Eastern Europe” seemed like a remote possibility. Members of the Czechoslovak dissident group Charter 77 such as Zdena Tomin, whom I heard speak in Leeds Town Hall in 1981, seemed impossibly glamorous. But hope of liberalisation in “Eastern Europe” appeared to die when, on 13 December 1981, General Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland and suppressed Solidarity, the independent trade union. This all changed in a few short months in 1989. I had made the decision to return to study in the hope of becoming a housing academic, and in my bedsit listened to events unfold on the radio. Most memorably, the lethal division that was the Berlin Wall, was breached on 9 November 1989. Shortly after I moved to Glasgow to begin work at the Centre for Housing Research in 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved.

One of the pleasant surprises of my academic career has therefore been the opportunity to work with people from “Eastern Europe” and indeed to study what now became known as the “transition economies.” But of course in the early stages of my career, I was in a position only to listen and learn as the mainly US advisors promoted their vision of housing reform based on the mass privatisation of public housing and the creation of systems of property rights backed by a “risk-based” mortgage finance system. To the extent that there was a debate, it was about which mortgage finance model should be imported. Should it be something like the US system? Or should it be like the German system? My earliest attempt to enter the debate, at an OECD conference on housing finance in transition countries in 2000, suggested that the choice mortgage finance system was about more than efficiency. It would also shape what kind of housing system was created. The papers were published in this book.

I learned much from David Donnison’s 1967 book The Government of Housing, later updated with Clare Ungerson as Housing Policy.  The notion of housing in the socialist system as a “dole paid with wages” is a powerful one, and has been rekindled recently in an absorbing book by Dr Mark B Smith with the evocative title Property of Communists, which I reviewed for Housing Studies. This examines the origins and charts the progress of the Khrushchev’s mass housing programme which “greatly improved the lives of tens of millions of Soviet citizens.” The truly epic scale of the housing problem – caused in part by the imperative of industrial investment in the 1930s when consumption was severely suppressed, but also of course by the destruction of the war – led to the industrial-scale building programme. This helps to explain the emphasis placed on building materials and construction techniques, which is a well-known characteristic of housing ministries across the region. On a visit to Russia in the early 1960s, David Donnison was told, “In the Soviet Union we have solved the housing problem. We have learned how to stick the big panels together.”

This was the period when the Soviet Union aspired to overtake the western standards of living. The rivalry was captured in this video clip from the so-called “Kitchen Debates” between Khruschev and Nixon at the American trade fair in Moscow in 1959. “You Americans expect that the Soviet people will be amazed. It is not so. We have all these things in our new flats,” said Kruschev. The optimism that surrounded the Soviet economy in the 1950s and early 1960s is superbly captured in Francis Spufford’s extraordinarily well researched and brilliantly crafted set of vignettes, Red Plenty.

Ironically there is more than a hint of “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past” in common-place views of the Soviet system. To understand the transformation of housing systems in Central and Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism, we need to have a firmer grasp of how they operated under socialism.  I have gained much from a long-standing collaboration with Martin Lux of the Academy of Sciences in Prague. This collaboration arose from the year he spent in Glasgow as a Marie Curie Fellow in 2002-03. We have been working on a paper for more than a year now, which critiques common approaches to understanding transition. The work of Smith – and Donnison before him – provides insights into the nature of socialist tenure. The “personal” ownership that existed after “private” ownership was abolished is often labelled “owner occupied” when in fact it lacked the essential attributes of the tenure as understood in the capitalist systems. Similarly “socialist property” – and it sub-tenures – provided such high levels of security that they assumed some of the characteristics of western “ownership.”


“In the Soviet Union we have solved the housing problem. We have learned how to stick the big panels together.”

Combine this with the way in which state and state-enterprise housing was used as a reward system within a very flat wage structure, then – in western terms – the world really is turned upside down. In it, “decommodified” housing is a source of inequality and the unskilled workforce is more likely to be in “home-ownership.” Only then can we begin to understand what mass privatization meant.

Meanwhile we might reflect on how the development of mortgage systems is coming along. Jane R Zavisca’s book Housing the New Russia examines how and why the attempt to import American-style housing finance institutions failed in a system she characterises as “property without markets.” What is strikingly refreshing about this book is the injection of sociology into a debate – and in international terms and agenda – that has been dominated by economists. Zaviska highlights the legacy of socialist tenures as one reason for a strong cultural resistance to western-style mortgages, and this helps to explain why the “transition” country that has attempted to adopt the American system most closely has ended up with possibly the smallest mortgage market of any of these countries.

Martin and I have concluded that more than 20 years from the collapse of political communism in “Eastern Europe” these countries are more accurately characterised as being in “transformation” rather than in “transition.” “Transformation” might equally apply to academic understanding and policy formation.

Deciding to do a PhD

Kathryn GilchristIHURER PhD student Kathryn Gilchrist is currently writing up her PhD, which focuses on how access to greenspace and nature in the work place affects people’s health and wellbeing. Her research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).  In this post, she describes what it is like to do a PhD at IHURER

I’ll be honest; before coming to Heriot-Watt I had never intended to do a PhD.  It wasn’t a long-standing ambition of mine at all.   Yet now I find myself nearing the end of my time as a PhD student in IHURER and couldn’t be happier about the path I stumbled onto.  I first came to the School of the Built Environment (SBE) here at Heriot-Watt Uni as a postgraduate on the MSc Urban Planning course.  My background was in environmental science, but I didn’t want to be a scientist – what really interested me was how people and their environments interact.  The more I learned about planning and urban research, the more hooked I got.  I wanted to keep learning more, and I wanted to do that in SBE.  I liked the fact that research here isn’t about navel-gazing; it’s about real peoples’ lives and building an evidence-base to influence the decisions made in policy and practice that affect us all.  By the end of the MSc year I had, with the encouragement and advice from IHURER staff, successfully secured a place and funding to study for a PhD in the department.

This isn’t to say it was an easy decision to make.  To dedicate yourself for three or more years to a single research project that you, and only you, will design, implement, analyse and report can be a scary prospect! Deciding to do a PhD is a huge commitment, and certainly not something to take lightly.  The important thing is that doing a PhD isn’t just about the end result – producing a piece of original research  – it’s also process of training and learning the tools of the trade, developing lots of skills like critical thinking, communication, organisation and self-motivation.  It’s an apprenticeship in research.  An inevitable part of that is having to learn by trial and error, false starts and ‘back to the drawing board’ moments.   The great thing is that you’re surrounded by like-minded people who are coming up against similar obstacles, or have done in the past, and can offer advice or support.  We have a great research community here at IHURER, and because of the level of support both from academic staff and from fellow students, although your project is ‘your baby’ you’re never out there on your own.

Having said that, I don’t know if I would have gotten through the more challenging times if I didn’t have a strong interest in my topic. I study how access to greenspace and nature affects peoples’ health and particularly their mental wellbeing, and although it’s a complex subject it’s absolutely fascinating.  I really wouldn’t recommend doing a PhD on anything you don’t have a genuine interest and curiosity for; that way madness lies!  But if you do have that, it can be a really rewarding process.  I (and others I know) found it all too easy to panic a bit in the earlier stages when you don’t yet have a defined research design, there are so many decisions to be made (all of which feel like they might determine your success or failure, though they most probably won’t), and you aren’t 100% sure you’re capable of pulling off what you do have planned.  However, when things do eventually come together and you manage to successfully gather your data and (hopefully) produce some interesting findings, the feeling of achievement more than makes up for the tough periods!

Heriot-Watt Campus

Heriot-Watt campus certainly has plenty of access to nature and greenspace!

Of course there’s more to PhD life in IHURER than just the studying part.  Given the focus of my research especially, it’s really important to me to be able to take a break and within a couple of minutes wander from the building I can find myself in beautiful woodlands, feeding the swans and ducks at the loch (lake for those of you not familiar with the Scots!), or relaxing in the landscaped gardens of the old family estate that Heriot-Watt occupies.  Another major benefit is the research student community here.  It’s a really friendly department to be part of, and because we have such an international student community studying here has meant I’ve made friends from all over the world (and had some interesting experiences with some of their native foods!).   Student satisfaction is high in the university overall as well – we are the no. 1 university in Scotland for student satisfaction (National Student Survey 2012) and for the last two years running have been the Sunday Times Scottish University of the Year (and top in the UK for student experience). Then there’s the added bonus of living in the beautiful historic city of Edinburgh – it’s not consistently voted one of the UK’s most liveable cities for nothing!

If you think a PhD at IHURER might be for you too, why not check out the PhD scholarships available at the moment?    

IHURER is currently advertising two ESRC Project Studentships linked to the ESRC large grant Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change: Understanding the Role and Impact of Welfare Conditionality (Application deadline: 30th of March)

The use of enforcement and other interventionist measures to combat rough sleeping

The use of fixed-term tenancies to influence social tenants’ behaviour

In addition, IHURER is advertising full and part funded PhD scholarships on the three topics below: (Application deadline: 30th of March)

Poverty and Social Exclusion

Inequalities in Access, Use and Participation within the Built Environment

International Housing Policy

%d bloggers like this: