ResearchUK’s ’productivity puzzle’ requires more focus on planning and design

WSP calls for greater productivity focus in planning and design to tackle UK productivity puzzle
Content Team6 years ago10 min

Applying a “productivity lens to development at a more local level will deliver productivity gains to local economies’, says a new report, published today by engineering and professional services consultancy WSP.

Published today (31st Oct 2018), the report sheds light on the potential contribution of the way that our cities are planned and designed to boost local productivity. The report’s authors also recommend new approaches for city leaders to make their cities ‘more productive’.

The report outlines how places which are designed and delivered with Space, Health, Accessibility, Resilience and Engagement (SHARE) in mind can be more productive.

“Local authorities up and down the country are currently responding to Government’s call for action to deliver productivity through Local Industrial Strategies,” explains Ian Liddell, Managing Director, Planning and Advisory, WSP, “By introducing the SHARE approach, the potential productivity gains that can be unlocked by how the built environment is designed and delivered are considerable.”

There is a 44% difference between the most and least productive UK cities

The report emerges after recent research by Transport for New Homes and RAC warning that some unconnected developments with a lack of public transport access, walking and cycling routes are trapping new occupiers into an over-reliance on the car, contributing to congestion, gridlock and poorer health, all of which negatively impact productivity.

UK Productivity Puzzle


The report explains that when places are more attractive, more flexible and are more efficient in their use of space, they will drive productivity. This includes spaces that are aesthetically pleasing, have good connectivity and can easily be adapted to future technologies such as electric vehicles.

“An effective approach to spatial planning can help to avoid isolated communities and ensure we are addressing the challenges of tomorrow”, says Ian Liddell. “We think that Local Industrial Strategies should consider how the public realm can be used to increase productivity.”

Space Metrolink


It is well known that healthier employees are more productive at work and physical inactivity costs businesses around £126,000 every year per 1000 employees[1]. The living and working environments affect the individuals’ experience and poor health creates an unproductive cohort of people who cannot contribute.

“Poor health is a cost to the system and public realm designs can play a preventative role through high- quality outdoor spaces and healthier homes and workplaces”, says Liddell. “Placemaking strategies should consider monitoring outcomes such as physical activity, air quality, and noise to maximise health and productivity.”

Health Image Courtesy of Twenty Two


More accessible cities save time and reduce traffic costs. Recent research shows that motorists in London currently spend on average 74 hours in traffic each year, costing the city £9.5bn[2]. Within an accessible city, there is also a need for inclusive developments so more people can work and remain independent for longer.

“Urban designs that offer step-free access, tactile paving and convenient public transport services to amenities and workplaces can help disabled people travel to and therefore stay in work”, continues Ian Liddell. “Good practice should ensure where feasible, that all common, daily activities can be achieved within walking distance.”

Courtesy of Unsplash


Areas which are more resilient can maintain higher levels of productivity during disruption, protect local businesses and supply chains from rapid change and accommodate future trends in society, mobility and climate change.

“Planning best practice should consider specific analysis of how areas can remain productive in climate change scenarios, with specific focus given to energy systems, water supplies and transport systems”, explains Ian Liddell.

Courtesy of Unsplash


With developments affecting local communities, city leaders need to put communities at the heart of regeneration and encourage meaningful input which will help communities shape the productive future of places where they live and work.

“Creating truly productive and future-ready places up and down the country will require engagement and collaboration”, continues Ian Liddell. “We aim to open this discussion about productivity to all, and I am keen that WSP continues to play its part in collaboration with public and private sector delivery partners, academia and think-tanks to promote the value of a productivity-focused approach to design”.

Courtesy of Unsplash

Enjoyed this article? Find more articles on productivity here.

Find out more about the Productivity Puzzle campaign page.


[2] INRIX, 2018. Traffic congestion cost UK motorists over £37.7 billion in 2017


Content Team

Work in Mind is a content platform designed to give a voice to thinkers, businesses, journalists and regulatory bodies in the field of healthy buildings.

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