MSc Sustainable Planning

About the course


The breadth of material covered in our MSc in Sustainable Planning gives students the skills they need in order to meet contemporary sustainability challenges in planning. Planning has a key role to play in improving the condition of life in our towns, cities and rural areas. Towns and cities themselves impact on global sustainability and can play a very influential role in tackling global environmental, social and economic problems. Equally, implementing sustainability principles within urban and rural areas is essential for the well-being of the local residents and improvement of the local environment. Creating more sustainable towns and cities will be central to the future of society and the planet. The planning system is so important because it provides one of the most sophisticated mechanisms for regulating environmental change. Recent policy changes have made planning in neighbourhoods and in communities even more important.

Increasingly planners are being required to facilitate the creation of more sustainable urban environments. This requires expertise and skills in a diverse range of disciplines and nationally there is a shortage of relevant skills. This course offers both personal opportunities for students to gain valuable skills that make them highly employable, and allows them to contribute to a much needed and fast changing professional area.

Why choose this course?

This exciting new course is specifically aimed at people wishing to gain expertise in contemporary sustainability issues. It provides graduates with excellent career opportunities in planning, environmental management, urban design, community development, regeneration, transport management, climate change mitigation and other planning related careers.

The course is suitable for:

  • Students who have work experience in planning or related discipline and require a postgraduate qualification and subsequent professional accreditation to develop their career further.
  • New graduates starting their career in planning with a first degree in geography, environmental science, conservation, sociology, architecture and urban studies.
  • Students from other disciplines who have developed an interest in planning from voluntary work, work experience or project work.

Key Features:

  • A combination of stimulating academic study and strong career orientation
  • Focus on the role of planning in addressing key sustainability concerns: climate change; urban sprawl; social cohesion; and demands for personal mobility
  • Using the latest techniques including GIS; urban design tools and community design engagement techniques such as charettes
  • Practical problem based approach to learning that uses real planning issues and case studies
  • Flexibility of study based on a programme of short courses scheduled over two or three days at weekends
  • UK field trips including visits to the start of town planning nearby at Letchworth and the first New Towns
  • International study visit to look at European best practice in France and Germany.

This course is available both full and part-time. Full time study in Semester A takes 1 year. Full time study beginning in Semester B will take 15 months. Part time study options typically take two years but students are given a maximum of five years to complete.

To find out more about this course you can come to one of our Postgraduate Open events. If you wish to visit us outside of our postgraduate open events then please contact to arrange an appointment. You can also book onto a campus tour.

You can find out more about our staff in Geography, Environment and Agriculture here.

Entry requirements...

An Honours degree or equivalent. Applicants with other qualifications and relevant experience will be considered individually by the programme tutor.

For country specific international qualifications please check here.

If English is not your first language, you will need a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent. If you do not have the required level of English for entry, our academic English courses can help you to achieve this level.


When you graduate from this course you will have excellent career opportunities in planning, environmental management, urban design and urbanism, community development and regeneration, transport management, climate change mitigation and adaptation and other planning related careers - all with a special focus on maximizing your sustainability expertise. Prospective employers include: local government; private sector planning consultancies; specialist consultancies in environmental management, urban design, transport planning; public involvement bodies; national government agencies; third sector employers including charities with an urban and rural focus; and professional bodies.

Teaching methods

The MSc Sustainable Planning course structure is based on a series of two to three day short courses and tutorials that usually run Friday and Saturday, though some modules may require a Thursday as well.

For full time students the modules run approximately twice a month which means that you will be attending classes on four weekdays and two Saturdays.

Part-time students attend the MSc Sustainable Planning short courses over two years. This makes the course easy to attend and fit around a busy workload schedule.

The modules that you study include:

  • Urban Design and Conservation
  • Urban Regeneration
  • Planning law, policy and practice
  • Spatial Analysis for Planning
  • Sustainable Communities and Environment
  • Place-making and Spatial Mediation
  • Spatial Planning: Theories and Strategies
  • Travel Planning and energy management
  • Transport Planning and Urban Mobility
  • Spatial Planning: theories and strategies
  • Transport Analysis for Planning
  • Community Engagement and the Planning Process
  • Planning for Rural Communities

Pathways through the MSc allow students to specialise in transport or aspects of environmental management such as water resources and environmental policy and governance.

All these modules can be studied individually as a stand-alone course for your personal development or CPD training, so please enquire for further details.

View the MSc Sustainable Planning prospectus

The course integrates a blended learning approach combining face-to-face teaching and tutorials with online learning materials, easy contact with tutors and online submission of assignments. It includes workshops, field work, class exercises, investigations and group work. The costs of UK and European field visits are included in the course fee.

All of the modules are assessed through coursework. The nature of the coursework will vary but will include experience in report writing, practical urban design work (no drawing or architecture background is required), oral presentations and negotiation skills.

Students also carry out an extended individual project. This is an opportunity to follow a particular interest in depth and do primary research. We encourage and support students to link with external organisations such as local government, voluntary sector organisations or planning consultancies to produce a piece of primary research that is both academically challenging and of practical benefit.


Year 1

Core Modules

  • Development Viability

    This module aims to allow students to develop an understanding of the key elements of the property development process within the UK and internationally. Students will understand how property development encompasses a range of skills and knowledge derived from a number of disciplines. Students will become familiar with the roles of the key stakeholders in the development process and how the risks and rewards are shared. Of key importance to planners are the ways in which some of the benefits from the development process can be retained for the benefit of local communities. Through the use of a range of case studies students will become familiar with and be able to critique appraisals submitted by developers. Case studies and lecture material will cover projects in both the commercial and residential sectors. Progress within the sector towards sustainable development and local initiatives to support green jobs will be critically examined and its achievements evaluated.

  • Place-making and Spatial Mediation

    This module is designed to introduce students to the concepts of place and space and the ways in which these can be mediated through place-making. The module will look at the theoretical basis for planning and urban design. It will examine the ways in which places are managed, utilised and lived in and how such activities can change the way places are conceptualised. The module focuses on the ways in which places can be enhanced and communities developed that engenders social capital, community potential, good public health and well-being as well as a high quality of built form, function, connectivity and identity, and in so doing recognises the role of place-making in building sustainable communities. This will provide a focus for the importance of community engagement in the planning process and the emergence of Localism and neighbourhood planning.

  • Planning law, policy & practice

    The module focuses on two central pillars of planning: development management and plan making. It will review and build on the knowledge of planning law and guidance that was introduced in ‘Spatial Planning’ including the key post-war Acts. Development management will be taught as an interactive exercise that intersperse lecture material with a real example of a planning application. Students will work through all of the stages in the planning application process. They will be become aware of when developments need planning permission, permitted development, and when these permitted development rights are withdrawn. They will evaluate what can and cannot be considered a material consideration in determining applications. When planning applications are rejected students will examine the procedures that regulate appeals and inquiries. The module will address rights of stakeholders in the planning system as well as introducing concepts of environmental justice and intra and inter generational equity.

  • Research Methods

    The module will introduce the main principles of research methodology, different approaches to solving a problem and the choice of appropriate research methodology. Natural science and social science research approaches will be explored including the development of the research question. Methods for sampling and data gathering will be described including experimentation, questionnaires, interviews, case studies, action research, content analysis and observation. Quantitative and qualitative data, its analysis, interpretation, presentation and reporting will be explored. A research proposal will be formulated with guidance from a project supervisor, which is relevant to the chosen pathway of environmental management, or environmental management for business, or environmental management for agriculture, or water and environmental management.

  • Spatial Planning: Theories and Strategies

    It provides students with an overview of the planning system including the purposes planning. The history of planning and plan making is reviewed including the influence of the Garden City Movement and New Towns. The Acts developed after WWII established the basis for the modern planning system and continue to have an important influence on planning today. More recent legislation from 1990 onwards has built on this and placed greater emphasis on a system that is ‘plan led’. From its origins, planning has had strong links with environmental issues. Planning emerged from the public health movement, and promoting wellbeing by supporting walking, cycling and food growing are increasingly significant in contemporary planning. The planning system has created a system of protection which places stringent requirements on any developments that take place in or near National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

  • Sustainable Communities & Environment

    Students have an opportunity to gain direct experience of European good practice in the development of sustainable communities. Students will also have the opportunity to become familiar with the planning systems that operate in other countries. Each day of the field trip will explore particular themes. The development of high quality public transport systems is well advance in many European cities. There are important lessons that can be applied to the UK context from these successful projects. City centres and older suburbs face important challenges to integrate high quality new development without undermining the heritage and conservation value of the built environment. Many European countries are further advanced than the UK in the development of energy efficient buildings through certification schemes such as Passivhaus. Sustainable communities need to integrate social, economic and environmental concerns to create places that people want to live, now and in the future.

  • Sustainable Energy

    The module provides an overview of key issues relating to sustainable energy and climate change in the context of spatial planning in the UK. To understand the problems, students first need to understand the main energy sources and broad patterns of energy consumption. Climate change is an increasingly significant consideration for plan making. Planners and energy managers need develop positive adaptation and mitigation strategies. The module draws on examples of good practice from the UK and internationally. To make decisions about responses to climate change practitioners need data, particularly the information available through the UK Climate Impacts Programme. Energy use is an issue that cuts across spatial scales. While it is most commonly considered at the scale of the individual building it is also important at the neighbourhood and wider scale. Energy use and behaviour change issues provide an important balance to technical solutions proposed for individual buildings.

  • Sustainable Planning Dissertation

    The dissertation provides an opportunity for students to carry out work in an area of planning that particularly interests them. Students are encouraged to choose an issue that addresses a contemporary concern in planning practice. They may choose to work on their dissertation with an external organisation such as a local authority, planning consultancy or voluntary sector organisation. The subject students select for their dissertation should reflect the specialism of their chosen pathway. Students on the transport pathway must complete a transport related dissertation and students on the environmental management pathway must complete an environmental management related dissertation. The dissertation includes individual research. Students are also expected to integrate material from their taught classes in addressing the topic. All planning problems will raise social, economic and environmental issues, although the nature of the topic will influence the importance of each of these elements.

  • Urban Design and Conservation

    Urban design principles are central to planning successful places. This module is designed to develop a detailed knowledge of the uses and potential for urban design to create places of high quality and enhance the public realm for the benefit of all. Students will consider urban design in a range of temporal and spatial contexts, including at the regional and city level, and consider best practice responses to key urban design issues such as sprawl, walkability, transport orientation and creating compact, mixed use development. Students will study how planners can develop a greater appreciation of social, cultural and economic heritage and gain a good understanding of theoretical and applied conservation approaches to the planning system at a local level. Both urban design and conservation aspects of the module will explain the contribution that planning can make to designing and conserving the built and natural environment, with an emphasis on combating climate change.


  • Community Engagement and the Planning Process

    This module is designed to introduce students to the concept of public participation within the planning process. Students will investigate the various ways, statutory and otherwise, planners, developers and other stakeholders must involve public participation and community engagement in various projects. Key skills in handling stakeholders will be developed, along with a range of presentational skills.

  • Planning for Rural Communities

    This module is designed to introduce students to the conceptual framework for planning for rural communities in the UK. The historical, political and socio-economic context will be investigated, together with an outline of the relevant legal and policy background. The focus of the module will be on how sustainable planning can effect change positive change in rural areas. Contemporary rural issues such as planning and agriculture, the partnership approach, the rural definition, sustainable rural communities, affordable rural housing, etc will be explored. Student will acquire skills relating to the critical analysis of such issues. Students will develop a critical awareness of sustainable development issues in a rural context and become aware of best practice examples in plan making for dealing with specific rural issues. Also they will develop an understanding of the concept of Community Led Planning in a rural context.

  • Research Methods

    The module will introduce the main principles of research methodology, different approaches to solving a problem and the choice of appropriate research methodology. Natural science and social science research approaches will be explored including the development of the research question. Methods for sampling and data gathering will be described including experimentation, questionnaires, interviews, case studies, action research, content analysis and observation. Quantitative and qualitative data, its analysis, interpretation, presentation and reporting will be explored. A research proposal will be formulated with guidance from a project supervisor, which is relevant to the chosen pathway of environmental management, or environmental management for business, or environmental management for agriculture, or water and environmental management.

  • Spatial Analysis for Planning

    The course gives an overview of application areas of GIS and remote sensing in spatial planning. The majority of time will be spent in exploring applications of GIS using planning focused case studies provided for the course. Major topics can include: urban services; land use and urban growth; planning for climate change; and planning and decision support systems used in development management. Students will learn how spatial information can be used to its full potential in these topics. Later in the course students will work with relevant, local case studies on specialist topics such as: urban poverty; urban infrastructure; and urban data collection and participatory GIS. At the end of the course, students will have a good overview of a variety of key applications of GIS for spatial planning. With this overview students should have a good basis to explore the various application fields and tailor those to their own projects.

  • Urban Regeneration

    This module will provide both theoretical understanding and practical skills in urban regeneration. It focuses on the relationship between the economic, social, cultural and political forces shaping urban regeneration. Students will become familiar with strategic regeneration programmes at the national and sub-national level. This course will also address the practical implementation of regeneration at the neighbourhood level. The module will consider the role of events, sport, arts, cultural industries and tourism to successful regeneration projects. These include mega events such as the Olympic Games and European Capital of Culture and the associated city branding projects. The arts, events and culture are also used by grassroots groups to help overcome stigma associated with low-income areas, promote social cohesion, bringing abandoned buildings into use and deliver local economic benefits. Regeneration initiatives should involve working with communities. This course allows students to explore the assumptions, models, policies and practices of such working.

  • Water Resources

    This module will cover the nature and characteristics of groundwater and surface water resources and the factors affecting their uses. The critical factors in the strategic planning of water resources at international, national, regional and local levels to meet user demand, environmental protection and sustainable management needs. Water resources planning and management within the context of overall catchment planning; its relationship with water pollution control, river engineering, recreation and amenity. European and national water resources policy, the modern legal framework governing water resources management, the responsible organisations and interaction with interested parties. The management of water abstraction, the licensing process, consultation procedures, enforcement and the special procedures under drought and other emergencies. The threats to the quality of water resources, the quantification of risk and the measures taken to protect them.

Fees & funding

Fees 2016

UK/EU Students

Full time: £6,120 for the 2016 academic year

Part time: If you decide to study this course on a part time basis you will be charged on a modular basis. The cost is £510 per 15 credits for the 2016 academic year

International Students

Full time: £12,500 for the 2016 academic year

Fees 2017

UK/EU Students

Full time: £6,240 for the 2017 academic year

Part time: If you decide to study this course on a part time basis you will be charged on a modular basis. The cost is £510 per 15 credits for the 2017 academic year

International Students

Full time: £12,100 for the 2017 academic year

*Tuition fees are charged annually. The fees quoted above are for the specified year(s) only. Fees may be higher in future years, for both new and continuing students. Please see the University’s Fees and Finance Policy (and in particular the section headed “When tuition fees change”), for further information about when and by how much the University may increase its fees for future years.

View detailed information about tuition fees

Additional course-related costs

There may be some additional costs or charges associated with studying on this course. These costs or charges may be compulsory (ie you have to pay them if you are studying this course) or they may be optional (ie you don’t have to pay them, but they may help you get the most out of your course).

Any such costs or charges will be outlined in the About your course factsheet that can be found on the course Overview page.

Other financial support

Find out more about other financial support available to UK and EU students

Living costs / accommodation

The University of Hertfordshire offers a great choice of student accommodation, on campus or nearby in the local area, to suit every student budget.

View detailed information about our accommodation

How to apply


Start DateEnd DateLink
02/02/201725/05/2018Apply online (Full Time)
02/02/201724/01/2018Apply online (Part Time)


Start DateEnd DateLink
28/09/201725/09/2018Apply online (Full Time)
02/02/201825/05/2019Apply online (Full Time)
28/09/201725/09/2018Apply online (Part Time)
02/02/201824/01/2019Apply online (Part Time)


Start DateEnd DateLink
28/09/201825/09/2019Apply online (Full Time)
02/02/201925/05/2020Apply online (Full Time)
28/09/201825/09/2019Apply online (Part Time)
02/02/201924/01/2020Apply online (Part Time)