Professor Malcolm Tait

School of Geography and Planning

Professor of Planning
+44 114 222 6919

Full contact details

Professor Malcolm Tait
School of Geography and Planning (nee Urban Studies and Planning)
Room D11b
Geography and Planning Building
Winter Street
S3 7ND

I studied Geography at Durham University and went on to do an MA in Town and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield in 1997. I completed my PhD in Town and Regional Planning at Sheffield in 2000.

I was appointed as Research Associate at Cardiff University on the ESRC-funded project ‘The Urban Village: A real or imagined contribution to sustainable development’. I returned to Sheffield in 2001 when I was made Lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2009, and Professor of Planning in January 2016.

Research interests

My research interests align around a critical understanding of the activity of planning.  I am particularly interested in how planning is conceived politically and its relationship with other areas of societal concern, such as ecology, housing, and urban renewal. A key area of study is how professional planners work within complex political environments. 

These interests have led me to engage extensively in interdisciplinary research, working alongside policymakers, designers, scientists, and humanities scholars to understand how planning interfaces with multiple aspects of urban lives. I have extensive experience of conducting research projects through a variety of methodological approaches, most notably through in-depth ethnographies of professional work.  My principal areas of interest are: 

Planning and its public purposes

I have a longstanding interest in the political and ideological question: what is the purpose of planning? I have sought to engage with this both theoretically and through engaged research that focuses on this question as pertinent to the practice of planning. In particular, I have explored the extent to which trust is an important dimension of planning work and whether a ‘crisis of trust’ exists in planning that undermines its public interest claims. More recently, I led a ESRC-funded project ‘Working in the Public Interest’ which examined the changing state of planning in the UK, looking at the professional work of planners in both the public and private sectors. This produced the first substantive ethnographic study of planners in the UK for over 40 years, published as ‘What Town Planners Do’.

Planning and the ecological crisis

I have an emerging interest in understanding the interface between biodiversity loss and the planning system.  Whilst new policies are being adopted in the UK and elsewhere to integrate biodiversity into planning decisions, how these are balanced against other objectives of planning is less well understood. Working with ecologists and planners, I have engaged with questions of how the impact of planning on biodiversity might be assessed, and the democratic implications of using decision-making metrics in planning.

Understanding Urban Renewal

I have a wide interest in engaging with the politics of urban renewal. This stems from work on the concept of ‘urban villages’ as applied in UK planning, through theorisations of how urban models travel, and how practices of historic conservation are conceived. I have also explored how planning engages with an ageing population in urban areas, working with architects and policymakers to develop new guidance and policy. More recently, I have engaged with the politics of urban change, undertaking work to understand the impact of the Covid pandemic on the cultural sector, and more practically supporting a project that drew together academic insights from a range of disciplines to support a bid to diversify a key part of Sheffield’s city centre.

Current and Recent Research Projects

Other projects



  • Schoneboom A, Slade J, Tait M & Vigar G (2022) What Town Planners Do Exploring Planning Practices and the Public Interest Through Workplace Ethnographies. Policy Press. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles


Book reviews

Conference proceedings papers

  • Xiao J, Kang J, Tait M & Henshaw V (2015) Smellscapes in urban intermodal transit spaces: understanding pleasantness as a concept for design in an English context. Proceedings of the International Conference on Changing Cities 2: Spatial, Design, Landscape & Social-economic Dimensions RIS download Bibtex download


  • Robinson D, Archer T, Green S, Wilson I, Leather D, McCarthy L & Tait M (2018) Older People's Housing, Care and Support Needs in Greater Cambridge, 2017-2036 RIS download Bibtex download

Dictionary/encyclopaedia entries

  • Biddulph M, Tait MA & Franklin B (2010) Urban Villages. In Encyclopedia of Urban Studies. California: Sage. RIS download Bibtex download
Research group

PhD Supervision

I am Primary supervisor for the following PhD student:

  • Helen Brown, Housing and ageing

Interested in PhD study?

I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students who have interests in:

  • the profession of planning, including its changing role in new (local authority) governance contexts;
  • the role and values of private sector planning professionals; and,
  • the politics of nature recovery and planning
Teaching interests

All my teaching seeks to link how we think about planning with how we act as planners. Understanding the concepts that underpin many planning programmes is crucial to realising the possibilities of creating better planning responses.

Much of my teaching involves project based work, opening space for students to respond to real life situations and to reflect on the actions that might be taken in response to these. This includes work with masters students to recreate the decision making situations of local government, and work to prepare plans and designs for areas in Sheffield.

Undergraduate teaching focuses on using real life examples of plans, documents, and policies to explore the broader questions that underpin the activity of planning.

Teaching activities

I currently teach the following modules:

  • Values in Planning, Spatial Planning Systems, Plan-making, Transport Planning, and Planning Law