Neil McKenna

Neil McKenna


I grew up in Helensburgh, a town to the west of Glasgow, then spent 4 years in St Andrews studying an undergraduate degree in Geography.  Here I developed research interests in cities, inequality, and identity and undertook applied research in two neighbourhoods of Glasgow.  

I then relocated to London as a post-graduate, and developed an interest in questions of democracy in planning decisions.  I studied a number of recent developments in Dalston, east London, and was particularly struck by the mismatch in power and the difficulties communities face when trying to influence the designs of volume house-builders.  It was particularly interesting to test and think about public participation in a deprived area with high levels of social diversity, that is simultaneously undergoing intense redevelopment and experiencing gentrification.  

I am now a part-time PhD researcher with the School of Geography, working within the Social Justice, Cities & Citizenship research cluster.  Developing on my previous research I am now driven to work with local groups engaging with community-led housing, and I am undertaking action-led research to support better place-making, democracy and social justice in housing.  Over time I am seeking to understand the urban and social policy implications of evolving civic action and to assist in shaping the policy agenda in Leeds and the wider region.  

Supporting my research I also practice as an Urban Planner with Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design and am a chartered member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.  Within my professional work my key focus is on the social impact of development and the role of good place-making, and how this is achieved through agreement of principles and successfull collaboration.  



Research interests

  • Future visions for Leeds and the wider north of England
  • Radical municipalism
  • Community-led housing 
  • Land and housing reform
  • Social value
  • Place-making


  • 2014: MSc Spatial Planning, University College London
  • 2012: BSc Geography, University of St Andrews

Research groups and institutes

  • Social Justice, Cities, Citizenship