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8 June 2005 PR 05/54

Loughborough University to help answer one of urban planning’s great unsolved questions

Loughborough University’s Department of Civil and Building Engineering is to be part of a major research programme that will aim to answer one of modern urban planning’s great unsolved questions - how to measure sustainability.

A four year research grant of almost £1.3 million has been awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to the research team, which will be led by Professor Malcolm Horner from the Division of Civil Engineering at the University of Dundee.

The research programme is titled ‘Metrics, Models and Toolkits for Whole Life Sustainable Urban Development’ and will be executed by a consortium comprising Dundee, Loughborough, Glasgow-Caledonian and St Andrews Universities, with support from CIRIA, BRE, Faithful & Gould and Levett-Therivel Sustainability Consultants. The programme has already attracted more than a dozen industrial collaborators, thus bringing together a wide range of research and industry expertise relevant to urban sustainability and its assessment. More non-academic collaborators are expected to become involved as the programme unfolds.

Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Groups of homes, factories, shops and offices, and the transport, supply and disposal systems that serve them are major contributors to the lack of sustainability from which today’s world suffers.

One of the problems is that currently we have no way of measuring sustainability because it’s such a complex concept, involving economic, environmental and social issues. But if we can’t measure sustainability, how can we tell how sustainable an urban development is, or whether one design is better than another? How do we compare the aesthetic damage caused by poor architecture or insensitive transport routes with the lower costs that are often associated with them? How do we compare the social benefits of a more expensive housing scheme that provides an environment which leads to increased employment opportunities with a cheaper one that does not?

“Giving a single measure of sustainability would be a great boon to urban planning and development as it would allow us both to directly compare the entire sustainable value of different project proposals and help us to develop optimized urban plans which are sustainable in a holistic way,” said Professor Horner. “We have already completed a pilot study and the full research programme should lead us to developing tools which will let us measure sustainability as a single factor.”

A comprehensive literature survey has shown that although there are 700 tools which purport to assess at least one aspect of sustainability, none is capable of assessing all three aspects at the same time. This research will find a way of assessing simultaneously the economic, environmental and social issues which contribute to the sustainability of urban developments.

At the heart of the research programme lies the development of an Integrated Sustainability Assessment Toolkit (ISAT), which will allow key decision-makers to identify, prioritise and express in a common measure all the relevant issues for all the stakeholders in any given situation. It will identify those tools which are relevant to the decision-maker’s needs, and where there are gaps, develop new ones. The outputs from the different tools will pass through a conversion unit which will allow decision-makers and other stakeholders to combine the outputs into a single, common measure. The ISAT will be capable of working at any level of detail, from components of buildings through to complete urban developments, and throughout the whole life cycle from inception to eventual demolition or re-use.

Speaking about Loughborough’s involvement in the research, Professor Andrew Price, who is based in theUniversity’s Department of Civil and Building Engineering, said: “Loughborough’s contribution will mainly relate to measuring the social dimension of sustainability. The project provides an exciting opportunity to draw upon the current research activities of Professor Peter Taylor in the Geography Department, Professor Abigail Bristow of the Transport Studies Group and Professor Simon Austin of the Construction Management Group.”

ENDS

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Note to editors

Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities, and industry highlights Loughborough in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 45% of the University’s income is for research. The University has been awarded four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; and for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development.

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