School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

News Item

Teresa Strachan shortlisted for the RTPI Research Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement

'Canny Planners': An engagement workshop focussing on Hot Food Takeaway outlets on the High Street

The RTPI Awards for Research Excellence recognise and promote high quality, impactful, spatial planning research from RTPI accredited planning schools, members, and planning consultancies around the world. Recognising her sustained work with young people on planning and place issues, Teresa Strachan has been shortlisted for the Sir Peter Hall award for wider engagement. 

Winners will be announced at the opening ceremony of the UK-Ireland Planning Research Conference, at the University of Liverpool’s historic Victoria Building, 19.00 on the 2nd September


The topic of hot food takeaways and their impact on young people’s public health is a source of current debate at national and local level. Between April 2018 and April 2019 students and staff of Newcastle University’s School of Architecture Planning and Landscape have worked with 350 primary school children in North Tyneside where childhood obesity levels are above the national average. Three visits were made to a school in Wallsend a town where 43.3% of children in Year 6 are overweight or very overweight and life expectancy for men and women is considerably lower than for those in the less deprived areas of the Borough (North Tyneside Council 2015).

The workshop format is the result of 12 months’ of researching planning applications appeals Hot Food Supplementary Planning Documents in the north east and promoting the positive messages that are emerging around the role of planning in creating healthy environments. Planning student volunteers from across different cohorts have worked together to design elements of the workshop and to deliver these using questioning techniques with supporting information about planning.

Research project

The ‘Canny Planners’ workshop is a suite of 3 elements comprising: diamond picture ranking/ High Street board game/ mock planning committee which brings the issue of health and planning decisions into the classroom.

The diamond ranking activity allows the young people to understand that we make judgements on what we want for our neighbourhoods through the different values and priorities that we hold. This introduces the concept of the need for planning to arbitrate that range of views. Through the High Street board game young people can explore their perception of the high street reflecting on the impact of takeaways and other activities such as shops and going to the park. This introduces the concept that planning relates to a number of everyday scenarios and activities highlighting their key ‘tipping points’ beyond which the community can be adversely affected. The workshop also helped to bring some of the key facts about takeaway food (and its calorie and fat content) lifestyle choices and the role of the planning process in an informative fun and thought - provoking manner.

Working with young people on this issue has reinforced the researchers’ belief that planning policy around takeaways and high street retail offers has the potential for strong community ‘buy in’ (both in health and environmental terms). Children of primary school age make decisions about the type of food they eat which suggests that planning authorities which have not yet addressed the impact of such outlets on neighbouring primary schools may well need to consider revising their approach. University ethics approval was sought to allow research outputs to be gathered from these engagement workshops the findings of which are now beginning to be shared with practitioners in academic papers seminars and planning conferences.

Wider engagement

The wider impact of these workshops is that young people can begin to regard themselves less as being on the ‘receiving end’ of decisions that are made for them; that they can make their own informed lifestyle choices and in turn can help to inform the decisions of their families. The young people are also learning that there are longer-term benefits of pursuing a healthy choice of lifestyle.

The good practice that the workshops have demanded raise possibilities for new benchmarks in how we work with community groups in terms of inclusive methodologies and longer term engagement. The activities (especially the High Street Game) have been designed by the students to promote learning through the ‘threshold concept’ (Land R. et al 2016) which allows participants to unlock their learning and to understand planning decisions in a transformative manner. The project has secured funds from the Planning School’s Global and Urban Research Unit (GURU) to produce sets of resources so that schools and other groups can run their own workshops in the future. As the University looks to develop its Urban Room (Farrell 2014) the workshop will offer a useful format for wider community engagement.

The workshops outputs have the potential to inform future policy. The evidence emerging so far demonstrates that young people are very clearly influenced in their eating habits by the hot food takeaway industry and by what is available close to their schools.

‘Canny Planners’ has enabled planning to reach the curriculum in many North Tyneside primary schools with the promise of the project reaching even further in the future. It has demonstrated that the discipline is inclusive caring and capable of sharing a sense of responsibility for the local community’s health the planned environment and the relationship between the two. It has raised young people’s interest in what having a point of view can achieve and how they can communicate with the local planning authority’s decision making process through their persuasive writing. On a wider community scale the workshop has the potential to promote community interest in developing a locally based hot food takeaway evidence base or strategy as part of a Neighbourhood or Local Plan. The workshop showcases the work of our planning students and their passion for their subject in turn raising the profile of the profession and the responsibilities that the discipline advocates. Students talk about their new skills in engagement and the advantages that this will give them in the future work force. The students are also keenly aware that engagement with young people is not difficult yields important results and can be extremely rewarding. Through the Gatsby Benchmarking strategy (Gatsby Foundation 2013) the workshop has the potential to be recognised for how it raises young people’s awareness of higher education opportunities and routes into the planning profession.

RTPI Research Award Shortlisted

published on: 6 August 2019