Enhancing National and International Spatial Planning Policies to Improve the Independence and Quality of Life for Older People
Submitting InstitutionAnglia Ruskin University
Unit of AssessmentArchitecture, Built Environment and Planning
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Clinical Sciences, Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
We have contributed, nationally and internationally, to a changing approach, content and
implementation of planning policy by including the needs of our ageing society in streetscape
design, to address the requirements of older people, benefitting their independence, welfare and
quality of life. In the UK 23% of the population is projected to be aged over 65 by 2035, according
to the Office of National Statistics (2010). Our focus upon the needs of an ageing society has been
adopted as part of the skills and knowledge development agenda in sustainable planning through
the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Tools have been developed, policy informed and
reformed, and our findings included in a House of Lords report on assistive technology for older
Previous research revealed that `ageing in place' — growing older in familiar environments — masks
cognitive and physical decline. Little was known about how older people cope in unfamiliar
environments. Key findings included the recognition that environmental unfamiliarity arises when
familiar places become unfamiliar not only because of cognitive decline but also through urban
regeneration, and when older people travel to new places, regardless of the purpose of travel. The
research identified positive and negative environmental `triggers' that affect older people's
experience of unfamiliar spaces, allowing interventions to mitigate the effects of negative triggers
and augment the positive triggers.
Quantitative and qualitative research methods assessed older people's experiences of unfamiliar
environments with adapted quantitative measures of older people's reactions to urban design
quality and walkability. Using samples living in the Swansea area, unfamiliar with Colchester in
north-east Essex (and vice-versa), the study trialled `visitors' to each location. Quantitative and
qualitative data were collected from participants through interviews conducted in conjunction with
viewing video images and routes of the familiar and unfamiliar towns, using a 3D virtual
environment simulation. A subset of the participants also visited the unfamiliar town centre and
met local older residents and the local authority planning and community development staff. The
research established that:
- The environment is less stressful and anxiety-inducing for older people when outdoor spaces
are designed to be easily navigable and walkable.
- Buildings and landmarks, especially historic structures, are important as navigational aids.
- The input of older people is central to understanding how a sense of place, attractiveness, and
meaning in the built environment can be developed. The research shows the relevance of
shared memories of events and situations to particular places and buildings.
- Signs are of limited use in unfamiliar and new areas. They are often positioned incorrectly (too
high, for example), and lack essential content such as indications of distance or walking time to
- Gaps exist in planning practitioners' understanding of the inter-related elements of older
people's relationships with the built environment. This may impede development of locally-
appropriate age-integrated environments, and may be addressed by training and CPD
The research began in 2007 and was carried out at Anglia Ruskin University by Co-Investigator
Ann Hockey (Senior Lecturer from 2006), Carlos Jimenez-Bescos (Senior Lecturer from 2008) and
Ian Frame (Senior Lecturer from 1977, Reader since 1993).
References to the research
The following papers have been published in international peer reviewed journals, and reflect the
multi-disciplinary nature and wide applicability of the research.
Phillips, J.E., Walford, N.S., Hockey, A.E., Foreman, N., Lewis, M. (2013). Older People and
Outdoor Environments: Pedestrian anxieties and barriers in the use of familiar and unfamiliar
spaces, Geoforum, 47, 113-124. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.04.002
Phillips, J., Walford, N., and Hockey, A. (2011). `How do unfamiliar environments convey meaning
to older people? Urban dimensions of placelessness and attachment', International Journal of
Ageing and Later Life, 6 (2), 73-102. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3384/ijal.1652-8670.116273
Hockey, A. and Spaul, M. (2011). `Older People in Unfamiliar Environments: Assimilating a
Multidisciplinary Literature to a Planning Problem', Local Economy, 26, 236-245. DOI:
Walford, N., Samarasundera, E., Phillips, J., Hockey, A., and Foreman, N. (2011). `Older people's
navigation of urban areas as pedestrians: measuring quality of the built environment using oral
narratives and virtual routes', Landscape and Urban Planning, 100 (1-2). 163-168. DOI:
Hockey, A., Jimenez-Bescos, C., Maclean, J., and Spaul, M. (2010). `Skills and Knowledge Building
for Sustainable Communities', Town Planning Review, 81 (5), 523-540. Special edition on
Planning for Sustainable Communities. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3828/tpr.2010.20
The work was supported by two grants. A grant entitled `Older People's Use of Unfamiliar Space'
(OPUS), awarded in 2008, was a collaborative, multidisciplinary project led by Swansea University.
Ann Hockey, at Anglia Ruskin, led the spatial planning elements of the project. A grant was also
made to Ann Hockey and Ian Frame at Anglia Ruskin, by the Economic and Social Research
Council under their Skills and Knowledge Builder for Sustainable Communities programme in 2007.
Grant 1 awarded to: Lead Investigator — Judith Philips Swansea University.
Co-Investigator — Ann Hockey Department of Built Environment,
Anglia Ruskin University.
Grant title: Older People's Use of Unfamiliar Space (OPUS).
Sponsor: Joint Research Councils UK under New Dynamics of Ageing
programme, Research Council reference ES/F015534/1.
Start and completion dates: February 2008 - April 2010
Value of the Grant: £256,811
Grant 2 awarded to: Ann Hockey Department of Built Environment, Anglia Ruskin
Grant title: Collaborative Initiative on Skills and Knowledge for Sustainable
Communities (SAKS) programme
Sponsor: UK Economic and Social Research Council/ASC.
UK Research Council reference ES/E023800/1.
Start and completion dates: 1 October 2007 - 30 November 2008
Value of Grant: £76,272.20
Details of the impact
The research has had direct impact on spatial planning through its inclusion in the continuing
professional development of planners. A number of meetings have taken place between ARU
researchers and planners, including the East of England branch of the Royal Town Planning
Institute (RTPI - see 5.7) to raise awareness and implement policy change. Internationally, the
research has informed the Local Government Association of Queensland, Australia, in its Healthy
Communities Project (see 5.3).
The research has been incorporated in training, CPD materials and Professional Development
workshops with planners and related built environment professionals from the East of England. A
number of workshops have directly resulted from the research. For example, `Planning for an
ageing population' Norfolk and Suffolk planning skills workshop (Norwich, 2010) and Essex
planning skills workshop (Chelmsford, 2010) attended by 59 practitioners. Additional content
relating to housing design for older people was added to the second event. The research and
analysis of quantitative material formed an integral part of the evidence base for the development
of the Colchester Better Town Centre Plan adopted by Colchester Borough Council in 2012 (see
The research has impact on housing, transport, leisure and urban regeneration policies, with
information and good practice from the research disseminated via the project partner website by
Older People and Ageing Research and Development Network (OPAN Wales - see 5.5).
Practitioners and policy makers from the Welsh Assembly attended the OPAN Policy Forum and
seminars in partnership with OPAN. The findings stimulated debate to further progress research
impact and contributed to the development of policy documents around mobility, usability and
accessibility. This included the 3rd Strategy for Older People in Wales. Additionally, linkages
made with the Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST), throughout the project, led to inclusion
of the findings in a House of Lords report on assistive technology for older people (see 5.1).
The OPAN research was further developed through a Knowledge Exchange project `'Care in
Business' in conjunction with Swansea University. Assisted Technology plays an increasingly
important role in maintaining independence and quality of life for older people. It is seen as part of
a solution to the preventative social and health care agenda for policy makers. Our research
addressed a number of innovative issues around data collection and visualisation, including the
application of information and communication technologies (geographical information system (GIS)
based navigational tools and virtualisation) to assist older people's interaction with the built
environment. This has led to capacity building in methodological and technical skills for
gerontologists using GIS techniques, which has led to new spatial aids, and has been
disseminated through major geo-information industry networks such as GeoConnexion (see 5.8).
The reach of this work has extended beyond the UK to include Queensland, Australia (Local
Government Association Healthy Communities Project - see 5.3), and Montreal, Canada (Centre
Urbanisation Culture Société de l'Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique - see 5.2). By
incorporating our research findings in continuing professional development portfolios and networks,
impact has been achieved through the raising of awareness of environmental gerontology
throughout health and social care professions. Our research team has developed new networks
with other disciplines beyond the project. For example, with architects in an environment and
gerontology network project; Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I'DGO) and the International
Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS).
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Department of Health, House of Lords report on 'Research and development work relating to
assistive technology 2009-10'. Presented to Parliament pursuant to section 22 of the
Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
- Professeur titulaire, Centre Urbanisation Culture Societe.
- Local Government Association of Queensland, LGAQ Healthy Communities Project Bulletin,
- UK Clinical Research Network Study Portfolio
- OPAN Director — Professor of Gernatology
- National Senior Living Partners Network (NSLPN), 28 December 2010, "Better Spaces for
Older People" http://nslpn.com/blog/category/assisted-living/page/115/
- Royal Town Planning Institute President (2010). Instrumental in overcoming the issues of an
Ageing Society through RTPI events
- GeoConnexion, `New spatial aid for disabled and elderly'
- Planning Policy Manager, Colchester Borough Council.
- Colchester Borough Council, Older people's use of unfamiliar space (OPUS), New Dynamics
of Ageing Findings 4. Available at: www.colchester.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=8325&p=0