Spatial Policy and Analysis Laboratory (SPAL)

The Spatial Policy and Analysis Laboratory (SPAL) provides a home for staff and students across The University of Manchester engaged with urban and regional policy research.

Established in 1983 by Prof Brian Robson, SPAL (formerly the Centre for Urban Policy Studies) has developed a reputation for:

  • policy-relevant research on the evaluation of area-based urban policy initiatives;
  • regional development;
  • spatial planning and housing;
  • the measurement of neighbourhood dynamics.

We bring together expertise in integrating spatial thinking, methods, and techniques into the planning, policy, and governance of cities and regions.

Our interdisciplinary, policy and application-oriented research lays particular emphasis on discerning the inter-relationships between and across complex layers of spatial scales, administrative boundaries, and governance structures.

With this perspective, we provide understanding into and solutions for the grand challenges facing cities and regions.

Spatial Policy and Analysis Research Themes and Capabilities image.

Our research themes

Digital planning and decision support

We research new methods and applied tools that use digital technologies and data science to aid decision-making in city and regional development. We aim to enhance evidence-based decision-making for the benefit of urban and regional communities.

Our research centres around three interconnected themes.

Data science and AI for smart cities

Cities have a long history of generating and utilising 'big data' related to population, economy, transportation networks, people's movements, and the effects of climate change on the urban and natural environments.

Much of this data is generated by citizens through everyday transactions, often without their awareness or consent. This data comes from various sources like social media, e-commerce websites, search engines, smartphone apps, utility meters, credit card transactions, and CCTV.

While big data presents many untapped potentials for smart cities, it also raises concerns about individual privacy and freedom. To harness the benefits of this data, cities need the right methods, tools, and techniques to effectively analyse and interpret it.

We collaborate with the Institute for Data Science and AI to develop new methods within our urban data science theme. These methods help cities and urban areas fully exploit the opportunities offered by data science and AI, aiding their understanding of this emerging field.

Digitisation of planning processes and systems

Digital planning enhances urban planners' capabilities by utilising GIS, 3D visualisation, and statistical analysis to assess data on demographics, transportation, housing, and the environment. This leads to more informed decisions about urban development.

Moreover, digital planning fosters improved communication and collaboration among stakeholders, including local communities, through our research on Public Participation GIS (PPGIS). By exchanging digital plans and models, stakeholders can gain a deeper understanding of each other's viewpoints and collaborate to create more sustainable and inclusive urban environments.

Spatial decision support

Decision support systems (DSS) have been pivotal in urban and regional planning for a long time. The effectiveness of DSS in real-world applications depends on factors such as the proficiency of practitioners in DSS, their ability to gain stakeholders' trust in DSS, and their skill in integrating traditional techniques with data and ICT tools.

Research conducted concerning spatially explicit DSS contributes to the ongoing digital planning efforts. This research combines conventional methods like multicriteria analysis with advanced approaches such as agent-based models in the context of participatory planning, land use, transport, mobility, negotiation in planning, and urban governance.

Land use and urbanisation

Our research focuses on comprehending urbanisation and city evolution to inform and guide urban planning and policies worldwide.

We utilise various expertise, such as urban modeling, data analytics, quantitative spatial science, GIS, and qualitative methods, to produce and implement knowledge about land use and urbanisation, which significantly impact cities and urban living conditions.

Additionally, we investigate the effects of planning and regeneration policies on land use and urbanisation processes.

Our research encompasses the following interconnected themes.

Modelling urban expansion

We use advanced urban modeling techniques to create accessible models for predicting urban expansion in fast-growing regions. These models offer decision support tools for improved urban and regional planning.

The evolution of land use and spatial structure of cities

We use quantitative spatial science, GIS, data analytics, and qualitative methods to analyse how land use and the structure of cities change over time and space.

Our work not only aids urban planners and policymakers in decision-making but also contributes to the enhancement of urban models.

The impact of planning and regeneration policy on land use patterns and change

We evaluate the outcomes of land use policies. This involves studying the effects of policies aimed at redeveloping brownfields or preserving open spaces like greenbelts and valuable agricultural land.

Regeneration and community

Our research centres on the impact and effectiveness of urban space regeneration efforts, with a particular emphasis on their effects on communities and their level of involvement in policymaking.

This work extends The University of Manchester's well-established research on territorial policies and governance structures, spanning various spatial scales from regional to neighbourhood levels.

Furthermore, it continues our ongoing research expertise in urban regeneration and the outcomes and effectiveness of initiatives targeting the enhancement of economic, social, and environmental conditions in cities and communities.

The research themes encompass the following.

Engaging hard-to-reach communities through innovation in participative methods

This theme employs our expertise to evaluate the success of involving stakeholders in policy development and to discover more effective methods for engaging communities.

Research on temporary urbanism

This theme delves into the purpose and significance of temporary land and building reuse within broader regeneration strategies.

By analysing international empirical data from case studies in the UK and China, our findings have contributed to broader discussions on urban development and the evolving dynamics among the government, market, and citizens.

Research on the management and mechanisms involved in urban regeneration in different contexts

This research explores topics like the influence of digital platforms on urban regeneration, the interactions among urban stakeholders, the expansion of urban consultancy in shaping and executing regeneration projects, and the global exchange, mobilisation, and adjustment of urban regeneration policies and planning concepts.

Spatial inequalities, policy and governance

Our research incorporates spatial thinking into planning and policy analysis, revealing that the UK government's lack of spatial consideration in policymaking has led to uneven public investment in northern regions and persistent spatial inequalities.

We have expanded our research to international contexts, including China, Latin America, and African countries. Our focus is on understanding and illustrating patterns of spatial distribution and relationships within the complex framework of administrative boundaries and governance structures.

To elucidate and visualise spatial patterns and policy outcomes, our researchers employ indicators research, GIS analysis, decision support tools, and spatial modeling using various types of data at multiple spatial scales. Our research themes include:

  • spatial inequality in combined authorities across England under the ongoing devolution agenda, mapping out spatial patterns in productivity, infrastructure, labour markets, and housing market changes;
  • health inequality in the spatial environment, identifying factors contributing to health disparities using a human-environmental framework to inform policymaking that bridges boundaries.

Transport and mobility

Creating inclusive, prosperous, and environmentally sustainable communities necessitates improving citizens' access to opportunities while minimising negative environmental effects and health risks.

Our team combines expertise in transport planning, spatial modeling and analysis, and urban planning and design to tackle issues at the intersection of urban transport and sustainable cities on a global scale.

Our research centers around two main themes.

Integrated land use and transport planning

Urban land use and transportation systems collectively establish the structural framework that influences the distribution of and access to urban resources.

Their coordinated planning is essential for creating inclusive communities and cities, reducing reliance on cars, and enhancing public health and well-being. Our research in this area concentrates on:

  • analysing the interconnected dynamics of urban land use and transportation systems at various spatial levels to identify the paths of influence;
  • formulating inventive, data-driven, and theory-based techniques and parameters for evaluating varying levels of accessibility at the neighbourhood, city, and regional scales;
  • employing our research findings to guide the development of effective strategies for improving fair access to urban opportunities.

Urban transport and mobility futures

New and evolving technologies, along with their mobility solutions, are gaining importance in discussions about creating sustainable urban futures. Information and communication technology (ICT)-driven mobility solutions are already influencing people's travel behaviours and have significant societal and environmental consequences that are not yet fully understood.

Recent advancements in artificial intelligence and the emergence of autonomous vehicles are expected to disrupt urban transport systems, affecting issues like equitable access, decarbonising transportation, and reversing unsustainable urban development patterns. Our research in this area includes:

  • studying how the adoption of new transport technologies and mobility solutions influences travel behaviours;
  • assessing the impact of new transport technologies on urban layout and accessibility;
  • taking an ecosystem approach to understanding interactions between traditional and new ICT-based mobility systems and exploring strategies for integrated transport systems;
  • developing data-driven methods and indicators to evaluate the broader social, spatial, and environmental effects of new transport technologies and mobility concepts;
  • collaborating with relevant organisations and agencies, including local governments, to create cohesive strategies and plans for maximising the public benefits of transport innovations.

Our people

Academic staff





  • Dr Gemma Basham – Honorary Senior Research Fellow
  • Dave Carter
  • Mike Emmerich – Honorary Professorial Fellow
  • Prof Vincent Goodstadt
  • Prof Graham Haughton
  • Michael Henson – Honorary Senior Knowledge Exchange Fellow
  • Dr Sian Peake-Jones – GMCA Fellow.
  • Dr Richard Kirkham
  • Bob May – Honorary Professorial Knowledge Exchange Fellow
  • Ian Wray – Honorary Professorial Fellow

PhD students

Current PhD students

  • Fatimah Alturfi – Towards Smart and Sustainable Urban Futures: Developing a Framework to Assess the Urban Sustainability Impacts of Autonomous Vehicles and Associated Mobility Services
  • Augustine Asuah – Understanding the Relationship between Spatial Structure and Inequality of Access in Sub-Saharan African Cities: A Case Study of Accra and Greater Kumasi City-Regions in Ghana
  • Yuyuan Chen – Transition to Mobility-as-a-Service: an international comparative study of integration mechanisms and implementation strategies
  • Rati Sandeep Choudhari – Environmentally Sustainable Futures: The Potential of Modular City Planning (Conceptualising Reconfigurable City)
  • Thomas Harris – Constructing a Model for Smart City Strategy Building in Latin American Cities
  • Christopher Marsland – Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) — Analysing activity-travel behaviour and its application to on-demand multi-modal mobility solutions in cities
  • Patrick Moat – How can the planning and implementation processes in the redevelopment of mid-20th century social housing projects be made more egalitarian, sustainable, and affordable in modern entrepreneurial UK cities?
  • Abdulrahman Abubaker Al Mottahar – Autonomous Vehicles: Assessment of its Supporting Ecosystem and The Process of Developing a Regulatory Framework
  • Ana Kashfi Muhamad – The Interplay of Architecture in the Complex Urban Fabric of Town Centres
  • Alejandro de Jesus Carpio Nunez – Urban system multi-model environmental impact analysis: Rethinking the approximation to assess the impact of human settlements and CO2 emissions
  • Ruotong Tang – Sustainable Development in Ethnic Villages of Southwest China: A bottom-up perspective
  • Muhammad Uthman – Urban Expansion and Standard of Living in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Yueh-Sung Weng – Incremental housing upgrading strategy as an alternative – A community-led regeneration approach in Taiwanese cities
  • Xinye Xiao – A Research on Green Gentrification in China Caused by Urban Regeneration
  • Dong Xinyue – Addressing the ageing issue in China with the strategic planning of urban community
  • Ruixiao Yang – Shared E-mobility hubs location planning. Geospatial and Dynamic Simulation Approach
  • Sui Zhang – Spatial differentiation and key determinants of health-related well-being in Tameside and Glossop: geo-visualisation and multi-level spatial modelling

Past PhD students

  • Eman Abouziyan – Mapping the spatial and socio-technical dynamics of urban metabolism for sustainable urban development in Egypt
  • Aya Badawi – Simulating the Behaviours of Urban Negotiators Using Agent-based Modelling
  • Ren Yitian – E-commerce, rural entrepreneurship and in situ urbanization in rural China

Contact us


Spatial Policy and Analysis Laboratory (SPAL)
Room 1.34
Humanities Bridgeford Street Building
The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
M13 9PL
United Kingdom

The Humanities Bridgeford Street Building is number 35 on the campus map.


  • +44(0)161 275 3639 (Prof Brian Robson)
  • +44(0)161 275 0680 (Prof Cecilia Wong)
  • +44(0)161 275 1936 (Dr Richard Kingston)