WSP calls for greater productivity focus in planning and design

With a 44% difference between the most and least productive UK cities, experts at engineering and professional services consultancy WSP say that the lack of focus on how the built environment contributes to local productivity is a missed opportunity. 

While new approaches, such as the government’s industrial strategy, are emerging to improve productivity at a national level, WSP asserts that applying a ‘productivity lens’ to all development at a more local level will deliver productivity gains to local economies. 

A new report, Productive Places: Boosting productivity through planning and design, published today by WSP, sheds light on the potential contribution of the way that cities are planned and designed to boost local productivity and recommends a new approach 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 the government’s call for action to deliver productivity through local industrial strategies,” explains Ian Liddell, managing director, planning and advisory at WSP. “By introducing the SHARE approach (see image above), the potential productivity gains that can be unlocked by how the built environment is designed and delivered are considerable,” says Liddell. 

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.


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 Liddell. “We think that local industrial strategies should consider how the public realm can be used to increase productivity,” he said.


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. 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.”


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.”


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.


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”.

Click here to download the Productive Places report.

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