Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies

Staff Profile

Dr Peter O'Brien

Senior Research Associate


Peter joined CURDS as a Research Associate in October 2013. Previously, he was a CURDS Visiting Fellow and a Member of the CURDS International Advisory Board. He is also a former doctoral student at CURDS, having been awarded his PhD by Newcastle University in 2005.

Peter has significant experience and expertise as a senior public sector executive in the North of England. He specialises in urban and regional governance, infrastructure funding and financing, universities, transformational change, and in the preparation and implementation of research, strategy and policy in local and regional development. Alongside his role at CURDS, Peter is Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities - the regional consortium of universities and higher education institutions in Yorkshire and the Humber. He was previously Deputy Local Growth Consultant at the Higher Education Council for England, and part of the specialist team that oversaw the Leading Places and Local Growth Academy programmes. 

Peter was a member of the CURDS team in 2013 that led on a national project, alongside University College London, which undertook a comprehensive audit of all 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in England. The project was part of the Spatial Economics Research Centre Programme, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Welsh Assembly Government. The study identified several critical areas for the development of LEPs, including future capacity building and leadership challenges.

From January 2008 to May 2012, Peter was Director of the Tyne and Wear City Region Partnership, where he was responsible for the development and delivery of the Tyne and Wear City Region Economic Review and the Tyne and Wear City Region Multi Area Agreement (MAA). As City Region Director, he led the preparation of the formal written submission to Government to establish the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP). Peter headed the NELEP Interim Secretariat (advising the LEP Chair and LEP Board), where he worked on Enterprise Zones, Growing Places Fund, Transport & Infrastructure, Business & Enterprise, Skills & Employment, Inward Investment & Trade, European Funding, Rural Growth Networks and Access to Finance.

Prior to joining the Tyne and Wear City Region, Peter held the role of Assistant Chief Executive at the North East Assembly (NEA), where he had lead responsibility for: Scrutiny and Policy Development of the North East Regional Economic Strategy; Social Policy; North East England European Strategy; and the North East England European Office based in Brussels. He also had corporate responsibility for NEA Business Planning and Financial Management.

Earlier in his career, Peter was the first Regional Policy Officer appointed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in its Northern Region, covering North East England and Cumbria. He was the principal adviser for the Northern TUC on all regional and local economic development matters, and he contributed significantly towards the development and implementation of TUC research, policy and campaigns on a wide range of economic, employment and social issues.


Peter combines in-depth professional experience in UK local and regional government with long-standing intellectual interest in the governance of local and regional development. His current research focuses on the funding, financing and governance of urban infrastructure and processes of policy and fiscal decentralisation, with particular attention given to the new Metro-mayoral institutional developments in England and Industrial Strategy. 

Between October 2013 and March 2018 he was a member of the multi-disciplinary i-BUILD (Infrastructure BUsiness models, valuation and Innovation for Local Delivery) Research Centre; a joint collaboration between Newcastle University, the University of Leeds and the University of Birmingham. i-BUILD focused on infrastructure at the scale of towns and cities where infrastructure is most dense and where the interdependencies between infrastructures, economies, society and the environment are most profound. 

Within i-BUILD, Peter critically analysed the regulation and governance arrangements for urban infrastructure funding and financing, with empirical case studies focusing on the UK's 'City Deals' and 'Devolution Deals'. Alongside Professor Andy Pike, Director of CURDS, and Professor John Tomaney, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, he examinined the funding, financing and governance of transport infrastructure in the London 'global city-region'. He played a leading role in the preparation of the 2015 i-BUILD Mid-term Review and 2018 i-BUILD Final Report. In 2016, he was part of the CURDS team that delivered an ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) Project designed to strengthen the contribution of CURDS within policy debates on decentralisation within England, in which he was a co-author of the report 'Decentralisation: issues, principles and practice'. He is currently working on another ESRC IAA project on Metro-mayors and will start a new IAA project in August 2018 on Industrial Strategy. 

Since joining CURDS in October 2013, Peter has led the preparation of CURDS' written evidence submissions to Parliamentary inquiries, including: 'Fiscal Decentralisation in England; 'Devolution in the UK - Post Scottish Referendum'; 'Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill'; '100% Business Rates Retention'; and 'The Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine'. He also produced iBUILD's responses to the UK National Infrastructure Commission's (NIC) calls for evidence on 'Connecting Northern Cities' and 'London's Transport Infrastructure', and CURDS' responses to government consultations on 'The Governance and Structure of the NIC', 'Future governance of the Public Works Loans Board' and 'Industrial Strategy Green Paper'. 

In 2017, Peter led a CURDS team that undertook a study for the Trades Union Congress that set out the case for a new Industrial Strategy for Tees Valley, and between November 2017 and March 2018 he was a member of the Steer Davies Gleave consortium that evaluated the One Public Estate 'public assets' programme.