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How pandemic could inspire RTPI Research Excellence Awards entries

By Nick Gallent, FRTPI

Nick Gallent FRTPI,, Professor of Housing and Planning at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning, discusses how the current global pandemic could provide inspiration for entries to the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence.

The awards promote high quality, impactful spatial planning research carried out by chartered members and accredited planning schools from around the world.

Entries opened on 23rd March and close on 18 May at 5pm. The awards will be presented at the opening ceremony of the UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference on 7 September, which will be hosted by the Bartlett School of Planning.

To submit an entry, please download and read carefully the Category Information and Entry Form that you will find under the relevant category.


The Royal Town Planning Institute’s Awards for Research Excellence are an invitation to the planning community to showcase innovative research that tackles urgent problems, advances policy and practice and bridges the work of academia and the broader challenges facing our community.

The current global pandemic and lockdown has brought many of those challenges into sharp relief.  The spotlight has shifted onto inadequacies in infrastructure and services – largely healthcare - but also the vital transport and communications needed to keep the country running. The spotlight has also been shone on governance structures and practices – whether responses to crisis should be centralised or devolved - and what sort of housing best serves the needs of urban populations in crisis or under lockdown – in terms of its quality, density and access to external space. The inequities of resource use – evidenced by the flight to rural areas and second homes – has also been highlighted.

More broadly, the crisis challenges us to look again at core inequalities in the UK, reassign value to those things – including the foundational economy – that have been arguably neglected, and even to rethink our place in the world, extending to those economic dependencies that, in some cases, have undermined resilience and sustainability.  Even more broadly (but perhaps more slowly), attention is also shifting onto the human-nature relationships that seem to be at the root of the pandemic: climate change, the loss of habitat, and the consequent struggles and conflicts between urban populations and surrounding nature and wildlife that may impact on human health.

Not all of these challenges will feature in this year’s award entries.  But all, and many others, will provide the inspiration and foci for excellent planning research in the years ahead.  The awards offered by the RTPI are important for a number of reasons.  They are a rallying call to new researchers, both students and early career, encouraging a focus on urgent problems.  The awards are about translation: identifying priorities in planning research, developing a deep understanding of specific problems and then translating that understanding into practicable solutions, both in terms of policy frameworks and daily practice. 

I have been involved in the judging of these awards for the past five years, since the formulation of the Sir Peter Hall Award in 2015 - named in honour of my late and great colleague, whose research never failed to have real world impact.  The Sir Peter Hall Award was originally conceived as an engagement and impact award – bringing the value of research to users and delivering measurable benefit. 

Today, all of the awards – including those for students, early career researchers and practitioners – embrace that impact dimension. They are judged on problem formulation, on innovation in research methods, on the quality of data collected and analysed, and on their concern for real-world problems to which good planning and urban design - involving public, private and community actors - form significant parts of the solutions.

Each year there have been brilliant entries, many at the forefront of methodological development in planning research.  Of particular note are the student entries – from the next generation of practice and research planners, who are evidently well-equipped with the vision and with the tools needed to understand the challenges ahead and make a real difference to the planning and design of future urban and rural places.  The awards provide our community with an opportunity to take stock of those challenges, debate responses, and bring together researchers and educators with consultancy, policy and public sector practice – sectors that need to be working in unison.

This year, pandemic permitting, the award-giving will happen at the UK-Ireland Planning Research conference – to be hosted in London by the Bartlett School of Planning at UCL.  We hope to attract a wide audience and build new research collaborations and partnerships.  Research has a big part to play in shaping the urban and rural futures that will need to emerge from this current crisis –and the RTPI, through its funding programme and awards, will continue to play its part in encouraging, promoting and rewarding that research.


Nick Gallent is professor of Housing and Planning at UCL, where he’s worked since 1999. His research is mainly focused on housing and the planning system, but often links across to community engagement with planning, and regularly looks at rural communities and places. He has published a number of books on these topics, the most recent being the Routledge Companion to Rural Planning, edited with Mark Scott and Menelaos Gkartzios in 2019, and Whose Housing Crisis, published by Policy Press in 2019.  Nick is also a Fellow of the RTPI.

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