The three pillars of sustainability emphasise that sustainable policies are a blend of economic, social and environmental considerations. Hence, in the development of urban mobility plans, cities require assessment techniques that allow them to comprehensively evaluate outcomes with sustainability objectives. A holistic appraisal framework that can, at least at a conceptual level, capture these three elements is that of cost benefit analysis. The UK, along with most developed countries, uses a framework with cost-benefit analysis (CBA) at the core for the appraisal of large infrastructure investments.
However for urban applications, such as smaller scale improvements to walking or cycling infrastructure, investments in green infrastructure to enhance the urban climate, or investments in the urban realm in general there is much less expertise on and consistency of methods between countries and cities. Data availability is often poor with data being scattered among institutions, and regular monitoring to evaluate the impact of small scale interventions is costly. As a consequence, usually only a simplified cost benefit analysis can be applied. The applicability of cost-benefit analysis is further limited because of the difficulty to monetise wider, non-market impacts such as improvements of social equity and urban quality of life. Furthermore, cost-benefit analysis reflects the current generation’s preferences, making it less suitable to assess visionary solutions to urban transport systems with changing behavioural norms and stronger emphasis on future generations’ interests. Hence, in urban sustainability assessments, indicator based appraisal methods are common tools to illustrate developments and trade-offs, but do not offer the ability to determine value for money or easily compare between different programmes with different objectives.
Simultaneously the changing political landscape of devolution and the political focus on economic growth has led towards growth oriented GVA/GDP based prioritisation of investments. This can be observed in the City Deals and the remit of the National Infrastructure Commission. Here more and more cities and government bodies are being challenged to compare investments in different sectors: transport, energy, housing and regeneration. The difficulties in making cross-sectoral comparisons using cost benefit analysis are non-trivial and this in itself has created the space to use GVA/GDP prioritisation methods. Such methods however might possibly lead to a departure from truly sustainable forms of urban planning.
This PhD project will investigate the compatibility of the different appraisal techniques with sustainability requirements and develop an alternative approach which retains the benefits of existing economic appraisal tools but puts a stronger emphasis on the assessment of wider urban planning objectives and can incorporate qualitative criteria. The study will be based on thorough theoretical foundations from welfare, urban and ecological economics.
It is anticipated that collaboration with West Yorkshire Combined Authority will occur, with for example access to the portfolio of projects and assessments that underpin the West Yorkshire Transport Fund. Currently, we are working with WYCA on improved procedures for evaluation and monitoring of sustainable urban mobility plans in the European research project CH4LLENGE from which this PhD project can utilise findings and contacts. The research will have immediate relevance for government organisations including city authorities such as the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Transport for London as well as national agencies such as the department for Transport, the National Infrastructure Commission and the Major Projects Association.
Appraisal and welfare economics masters modules
Ecological economics (SoEE) module
A good honours degree or masters degree which includes foundations in microeconomics and urban planning.
Please visit our LARS scholarship page for more information and further opportunities: https://www.environment.leeds.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research-degrees/lars-scholarships/
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Mouter, N., Annema, J.A., van Wee, B.,2013. Attitudes towards the role of Cost–Benefit Analysis in the decision-making process for spatial-infrastructure projects: A Dutch case study, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Volume 58, December 2013, Pages 1-14
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Hiremath, R.B., Balachandra, P., Kumar, B., Bansode, S.S., Murali, J., 2013. Indicator-based urban sustainability—a review. Energy Sustain. Dev. 17 (6), 555–563. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.esd.2013.08.004.