Completed PhDs

Many congratulations to our students on successfully completing their PhD studies.

Summer Graduation 2018

Dr Carey Doyle

Migrants: Identities, Space and Place

This research project examines diversification, space and identity in two locations in the UK which have had pronounced recent migration. Space is used as a lens to consider migration: the spatial patterning of migration in the 2011 Censuses is analysed and these patterns are explored locally through experiences of space, place and identity.  Taking a lead from the Census data, rural migrant destinations outside the more-studied urban areas are being investigated in a comparative project.

Experiences in a rural district Northern Ireland, which has a particular context as a post-conflict society,are contrasted with a rural district in England, a society generally regarded as non-contested but, like all societies, with complex inequalities and hierarchies, often enacted in identity and space.  The comparative approach is aimed at exploring the singularities and commonalities of migration, identity and socio-cultural division, as well as policy responses to demographic change.

Since 2003 Carey has been working as an environmental planner in the UK and Ireland and has parallel research interests in environmental assessment, spatial planning, planning governance and infrastructure planning.


Summer Graduation 2017

Dr Christina Kelly

      Integrated Environmental Management and Monitoring System (EMMS) for  estuarine and coastal ecosystems in Ireland

This doctoral research aims to develop an Integrated Environmental Management and Monitoring System (EMMS) for estuarine and coastal ecosystems in Ireland. The research will be conducted over three years and encompasses three key stages: - 1) Developing a Normative Model; 2) Data Gathering and User Engagement; and 3) Analysis, Synthesis and Dissemination.  Stage 1 involves reviewing international models of best practice in integrated estuarine and coastal management including an appraisal of relevant legislative and regulatory requirements for their sustainable management.  This first stage will conclude with the development of a normative model of EMMS which will be tested in Stage 2 of the project.  This second stage will pilot the normative model to two case study areas, the Shannon and Liffey Estuaries. Both areas are multi-functional supporting a range of activities, uses and natural resources as well as their associated environmental pressures and threats. The normative model will be trialled for effectiveness in the management of these estuarine areas supported by stakeholder engagement, facilitated through the establishment of local working groups for each area.  Stage 3 will include a performance analysis of the normative model based on the case studies.  This will conclude in the development of an appropriate EMMS model which can be applied in any Irish estuarine and coastal context


Dr Sara Ferguson


Summer Graduation 2016

Dr Stephanie Palmer

Design of Urban Parks: Making a Contribution to the Age-Friendly City

As urban areas continue to expand and population’s age, many cities across the world are striving to improve the quality of life for their older residents. A ‘Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities’ was established in 2006, and the World Health Organisation has established a common international obligation to develop physical and social urban environments that are; inclusive and accessible, encourage healthy and active aging, promote independent living and contribute to a good quality of life for their older residents (WHO, 2012). The research builds upon the ability procured by urban planning to encourage and promote behaviour and lifestyle and specifically the potential offered by public parks to contribute towards an age-friendly city. The research is set within the wider debate recognising the disconnect in our lifestyles from nature, with a growing indoor lifestyle contributing to a decline in our health and well-being (Depledge et al, 2011), and therefore recognising the health benefits to be gained from green space. Urban parks have a long-standing connection with health. Dating back to the ‘urban park movement’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, their physical and mental health benefits were recognised. They became known as the ‘lungs’ of the city, breathing spaces in heavily industrialised centres, giving citizens an opportunity to enjoy a piece of the country in the city. However, since the Second World War the use and popularity of urban parks have declined dramatically. It is, therefore, an opportune time to investigate how urban parks could regain popularity and encourage greater and more intensive use.

The research project specifically aims to determine, ‘what constitutes an age-friendly urban park?’. Within the case study of Belfast, both qualitative and quantitative research methods are used to evaluate whether the current and planned provision of public urban parks are meeting the needs of older people (i.e. aged 65 and above) and encouraging further park use. The recording of green space use and the influencing factors provide evidence to inform new park development and redesign. With a need to look beyond Belfast and the UK for innovative solutions and an opportunity to explore and learn from other cities in the expanding Global Network, New York was selected as the international model of best practice. A study visit to the leading age-friendly city allowed the important inclusion of an international dimension to explore best practice.


Summer Graduation 2015

Alan McCarten, Karen Jenkinson, Luke Kelleher, Aisling Murphy, Neil Galway & Andrew Grounds

Dr. Neil Galway

Contested place, memory and spatial planning

My current research investigates the role of heritage interventions (& non-interventions) in post-conflict nation narration focussing on case studies from ex-Yugoslav republics.


Dr. Andrew Grounds

Neoliberal Urbanization? Actual realities and the development of the Cathedral Quarter Belfast.

My research uses the development of a local cultural district, the Cathedral Quarter, as a lens to critically examine the ‘roll out’ of neoliberal urban regeneration policies in Belfast. The overarching aim of the research is not simply to reiterate the abundant critiques of such neoliberal urban regeneration policies, but rather to identify the implications they pose for arrangements of urban governance and the wider development of Belfast as a post-industrial and post-conflict city. Using a mixed methods approach comprising of semi-structured interviews, surveys, secondary analysis and participant observation my research explores how, where and when such neoliberal urban regeneration policies in the Cathedral Quarter have been created, and who exactly have benefited from their implementation. The research also examines the prolonged and seemingly unrelenting ideological influence of neoliberalism in configuring urban regeneration policies, despite the persistence of scepticism, challenge and resistance from grassroots organizations, political activists, critical scholars and radical practitioners alike. Finally my research examines to what degree neoliberal urban regeneration policies are travelling globally across different cities. By drawing attention to their impact on certain cultural districts like the Cathedral Quarter it hopes to demonstrate that despite such ‘mobile’ tendencies, there are still opportunities for local stakeholders to actively participate and influence the urban regeneration process.


Dr. Luke Kelleher

Economic, Environmental and Social Implications of Selective and Segregated Schooling Systems

Increasing school choice is currently high on the agenda for education reforms in Great Britain. The Government is committed to increasing choice and encouraging the participation of faith schools and religious organisations in the state maintained sector. Market segmentation by consumers in terms of the location of activities they engage in, will clearly have an impact on travel patterns. The more restrictive the source of “the market” for users of the facility in terms of their socio-economic, ethnic or other demographic characteristics, the larger the geographical size of the area which will be required to support viable facilities. While this will be readily apparent for a business in catchment area analysis the same can be more evident in the case of, for instance, education. Using revealed and stated preference survey data from Northern Ireland and discrete choice modelling alongside GIS, this research aims to develop a range of such tools to inform policy makers on future school travel patterns in response to an ongoing programme of reforms in education and demographic change.


Dr. Karen Jenkinson

Inter-professional working: professional perceptions in the context of healthy urban planning

The main aim of this research is to establish the role of inter-professional working in healthy urban planning with an emphasis on individual perceptions.  This is explored by focusing attention on the subjectivities of individuals within planning and public health to determine how they make sense of the concept of inter-professional working and to establish how they have responded to healthy urban planning and its inter-professional approach.

To achieve the main aim, this research follows a mixed methods approach embedded within four cities across the United Kingdom.  Q Methodology and semi-structured interviews are adopted to explore the subjectivities of the planning and public health professionals.  The two methods involve professionals in Belfast, the London borough of Tower Hamlets, Cardiff and Glasgow.  In summary, this research highlights diversity amongst planning and public health professionals in terms of how they make sense of the concept of inter-professional working.  The diversity between their different viewpoints is significant for a theory of inter-professional working in healthy urban planning by showing how different aspects of the collaboration process drive the individual perceptions.  In practice and policy terms, it is expected the findings will result in a more informed way of how planning and public health professionals can work together.  The findings show how the diverse roles, knowledge and competencies of planning and public health professionals and their different perceptions are actually quite complementary and together can be applied at the local level to enhance the practice of inter-professional working in healthy urban planning.


Dr. Alan McCarten

Mediation, Planning and the Divided City

Planning practice operates in the midst of local and national concerns, dominated by ‘power-laden’ ‘socio-political’ interests. Inherently conflictual, debates surrounding the physical development / redevelopment of land are intensified in cities where the basic context is typified by division. Divided by ethno-religious and ethno-nationalist conflict, Belfast remains highly segregated - a consequence of the social construction of space that occurred during and after the troubles, and reflective of poor inter- and intra-community relations within the city. Planning has struggled to respond adequately to the complexities of (the political) conflict, tending to ignore the relevance of segregation and division to the planning process. More in, the tenets of the collaborative approach to planning prove problematic in the context of divided cities. Situated within the Northern Ireland context and cognisant of moves towards a new era of government and planning reform, along with the region’s engagement in post-conflict transformation, this research uses Belfast as a lens in which to evaluate how the parameters of mediation are capable of fulfilling the collaborative ideal in planning when dealing with the complexities of cities characterised by division.


Dr. Aisling Murphy

Migrant integration in new destination areas: a study of Northern Ireland

Since 2004, a result of European Union enlargement, Northern Ireland has experienced an unprecedented rise in new migrants from Central and Eastern European countries. Considering Northern Ireland as a ‘new destination’ for immigration, this has presented new challenges for both migrants adapting to life in a new society and for local government and civil society in responding to this change. Integration, despite being the most popular way of conceptualising the relationship between migrants and society, has become a highly debated and loaded term with strong theoretical and empirical connotations. Using the analytical concepts of structure and agency the research aims to investigate integration as ‘a two-way process’. This will be achieved using the perspectives of migrants combined with an evaluation of the efforts of the statutory, community and voluntary sector who are involved in facilitating this process. Contextually, Northern Ireland provides a unique case in which to study this phenomenon. With little history of large scale immigration and a society still coming to terms with a historical legacy of conflict and division, research into the integration agenda for migrant communities remains largely unexamined in both policy and practice. It is expected that the research will provide unique insights into both the personal lives of migrants and how these are situated within larger scale contexts of achieving integration.


Summer Graduation 2014

Dr. Laura Michael

Dr. Laura Michael (Centre) with supervisors Dr. Brendan Murtagh & Dr. Linda Price

Managing Sacred Spaces: an examination of development processes at historically sensitive sites through the lens of collaborative planning theory

The landscape, that is, the context for our everyday living and social interactions, is a palimpsest of meanings and memories that have become attributed to place.  It is the backdrop to our social interactions and cultural identity, and is in fact inherent to that identity.  This research considers how place can become imbued with meaning and is open to interpretation, particularly where particular events of the past are remembered or memorialised within the landscape.  applying this to the context of state planning processes, which often fail to acknowledge these complexities of place.  The research explores the how places are memorialised and further sacralised in the landscape through meaning-making processes, and considers planning and developmental engagement as potential contributors to this.  The application of collaborative planning as a theoretical lens allows the research to consider how planning may more effectively engage with places of this nature in a development context.  The tendency for commodification of memorialised space is then explored as an outcome or consumptive stage in the changing nature of the landscape, considering in particular the development of sites for tourism and heritage purposes.  The research adopts an interpretive mixed methods approach of comparative case studies and tourist surveys to understand these complex narratives that contribute to the production and consumption of space.


Winter Graduation 2013

Dr. Dianne Quinn

Dr. Dianne Quinn (Centre) with supervisors Dr. Stephen McKay & Dr. Brendan Murtagh

Planning, segregation and the regulation of equality

This dissertation evaluates the impact of equality on the planning system in Northern Ireland and whether this has added value, in material terms to social justice and inclusivity within the region. The research theoretically tests the efficacy of collaborative planning in a divided community and draws on critical narratives based on more agonistic practice. However, the case study research reveals that a lack of trust, civic identity and communicative action is at the heart of the failure to translate equality rhetoric into practice. The thesis argues that we should not dismiss collaborative planning so readily and that the development of skills, knowledge and practice are at the heart of making it work more effectively. In a divided society struggling to deliver policy, there is little option than to collaborate and resist the pull of further contestation in an already well divided built environment.


Completed in 2012

Name Project Title Supervisor(s)


Joanne Jordan

The Role of Social Capital in Enhancing Community Resilience to Climate Change

Dr. Geraint Ellis
Dr. Manoj Roy
Dr. Brendan Murtagh

This project explored how communities can enhance their resilience to adapt to climate change in the context of coastal communities in south-west Bangladesh. This research used the Sustainable Livelihoods approach as a conceptual framework to provide an understanding of the variables and relationships that make different communities more resilient to climate-induced stress.  In particular, this research focused on examining the level of interrelationship between different forms of social capital and community resilience. Empirically the project is situated in village communities at risk of climate shock events and using primarily qualitative methods it sought to trace their response strategies, survival techniques and capacity to adopt. Theoretically, it tested the value of social capital in determining their capacity to cope, adapt and ultimately remain resilient in the face of global climate change. Situated responses that take account of resources, cultural histories (in particular the strength of association) and the capacity to develop economic and physical capital rather than social capital per se, may be at the heart of the notion of resilience. Westernised concepts have important benefits but crucial limitations when applied to the particular conditions, value sets and modes of community working in the South. The uncritical importation of social capital and its liberal political basis need to be treated with caution especially in crises circumstances and management reposes in developing nations.


Name Project Title Supervisor(s)


Jonathon Bell

Designating National Parks in Contested Landscapes: Governance Challenges and the Evolving National Park Concept in Northern Ireland, with Lessons from Scotland


This thesis examines rural governance practice and the global evolution of national park models by analysing the attempted designation of the Mournes national park in Northern Ireland and the actual designation of the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland.  Qualitative data is analysed thematically to provide comparative insights into the ability of participatory governance to manage diverse countryside interests in order to establish national parks in contested rural locations.  The thesis employs a distinct analytical framework, comprising the theoretical concepts of governance, power, participation and the resource paradox.

Comparing attempts to designate national parks in Northern Ireland and Scotland since devolution (1999) demonstrates the influence of contextual factors, including wider governing circumstances, socio-political and land ownership context and landscape management legacies, on participatory practice.  Ethno-national connotations surrounding the ‘national’ park concept are shown to add to the complexity of national park designation in Northern Ireland.  Furthermore structural factors, relating to how policy processes are initiated and designed (including the participatory and governance mechanisms employed) directly influenced public participation.  Participatory practice was undermined by power which manifest at different stages of the policy process, while deeply entrenched power relations, linked to the pattern and legacy of land ownership, are revealed as a barrier to inclusive participatory practice.

A ladder illustrating the global evolution of national park models is presented.  The Cairngorms National Park model is shown to be distinct in a global context with the model proposed in the Northern Ireland National Parks White Paper (2011) representing a further evolutionary stage.  The appropriateness of this model in the Mournes locality is questioned.

This thesis provides new insights into the practice of participatory governance, power relations in rural society and evolving national park models in their broader social and economic context.


Completed in 2011

Name Project Title Supervisor(s)

Heather Ritchie

A study into unravelling the marine planning problem: how can stakeholder perspectives be used to advance the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) process?

Dr. Geraint Ellis
Prof. Sharon Turner

This research explores how stakeholder perspectives can be used to advance the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) process in the Irish Sea region of the UK. The research begins with the identification of a “marine problem” (Peel and Lloyd, 2004), defined primarily as a planning problem, arising from, inter alia, a lack of coherent regulatory guidance for activities in the marine environment. It is proposed that a new system of planning for the marine environment, in the form of Marine Spatial Planning, may be the solution to this problem; however until the problem is fully understood, it is suggested that MSP cannot be effectively advanced. Current research dominating MSP debates has merely addressed the rudimentary development of MSP and has primarily relied on emphasising expert opinion and institutional analysis. The concept of stakeholder engagement, whilst being a core element of the parallel activity of terrestrial spatial planning, has been left out of many of the MSP debates, and so the research into unravelling the marine problem, will also present how stakeholder engagement has a central and critical role to play in advancing the MSP process, by opening up the debate to a wider, more pluralistic audience. It is expected that this is likely to result in a more informed and accepted way of managing the marine environment.



Thomas Bell

Towards understanding community acceptance using Anaerobic Digestion (AD) in Northern Ireland as a case study

Dr. Geraint Ellis
Dr. Stephen McKay

The research aims to investigate the concept of community acceptance by focussing on the deployment of Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants in Northern Ireland. Butler et al., (2008) note that while people generally have concerns about climate change and appreciate the environmental benefits of renewable energy, there is a lack of awareness in respect of AD that can lead to negative perceptions and in turn, problems with project implementation. Since April 2011, there has been a surge of planning applications for AD plants in Northern Ireland, offering a substantive opportunity for rural economic development and a major contribution to the region’s shift to a low carbon economy. However, in light of this 'novel' technology, many proposals have attracted local debate and ultimately, third party objections and negative perceptions by the local community. This situation is not new, nor unexpected, as communities’ reaction to AD proposals appears to have similarities to that seen in the case of other Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs), such as wind farms. Yet the specific way in which AD plants are perceived and the impact this may have on the deployment of the technology is poorly understood, as noted in a recent report by DEFRA (April, 2011)  which suggested that a lack of collaboration and partnership between developers and local communities could compromise the potential of the technology. This research aims to explore the issues related to this ‘new’ RET, will develop an understanding of stakeholder perceptions using Q-Methodology  and hopes to contribute to our understanding of both the concept of community acceptance and the specific context for the development of AD as a critical component of the NI energy system.