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Spatial Planning

MSc / PGDip

School of the Built Environment

The MSc provides full Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) accreditation. The PGDip must be combined with a specialist MSc dissertation for this full accreditation.

This one-year full-time and two-year part-time MSc programme is the benchmark qualification for those wishing to enter the planning profession and is fully accredited by both the RTPI and RICS.

It takes a broad approach to the “traditional” field of city and regional or town and country planning. You will learn to integrate concerns across the board, including those of economy, climate change, and social need.

The emphasis is on developing a broad and flexible level of knowledge and understanding, enabling you to adapt to developing pressures during your career.

The course combines core planning education with the development of expertise in specialist areas. Our links with practitioners in both the private and public sectors ensures that the course remains at the cutting edge of practice.

Available start dates

September 2019 / September 2020

Teaching location

Headington Campus

Course length

  • Full time: 12 months
  • Part time: 24 months, delivered on day-release over two years

For full application details, please see the 'How to apply / Entry requirements' section.

  • It is viewed as the first choice for planning training by a range of employers including local authorities, the Environment Agency and major planning consultancies.
  • Frequent guest lectures from industry leaders give you the chance to make important contacts for your future career.
  • Learn more about current developments from professionals and academics through our Planning seminar series.
  • The department is based in the modern and well equipped Abercrombie building, part of an award-winning recent redevelopment of the campus.
  • Access to top-of-the-range facilities including studios, IT suites and computer programs, as well as three libraries and 24/7 online databases which contain all the academic material you require to be successful in their postgraduate studies.
  • Study in the world-famous student city of Oxford, a particularly fascinating place for those interested in cities, transport and sustainability.

Professional accreditation

The MSc in Spatial Planning is fully accredited by both the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). This means that on graduation you can complete the Assessment of Professional Competence programmes of these professional bodies and become a full member.

In order to attain full accreditation for both the RTPI and RICS, graduates must combine the Postgraduate Diploma in Spatial Planning with one of our specialist master's programmes. These include: an MSc in Environmental Assessment and Management, an MSc in Historic Conservation, or the MA in Urban Design.

The course is offered at two levels: a master's degree (MSc) and a postgraduate diploma (PGDip).

The MSc course is based on the completion of the following compulsory elements, plus elective specialisations and a 15,000-word master's dissertation.

Please note: as courses are reviewed regularly as part of our quality assurance framework, the module lists you choose from may vary from the ones shown here

Compulsory elements:

  • Spatial Planning in Context explores the contexts within which the UK planning system needs to be understood: historical, spatial, social, economic, political and international. You will consider the issues that the planning system confronts and manages, and reflect on the range of approaches, historically and between countries, which may be taken to deal with planning issues.
  • Spatial Planning in Action presents an analysis and assessment of the structure, objectives and responsibilities underlying the practice of spatial planning from a UK perspective. The legal basis and administrative aspects of planning decision making are introduced, including development plan making, development control and the appeals process.
  • Place-Making introduces the theories, processes and practice of place making, and evaluates these against their impact on urban form and different sectors of society. The module teaches the development of design alternatives, taking account of political, socio-economic, development, aesthetic and other key factors important in achieving high quality, sustainable public realms.
  • Delivering Sustainable Futures extends understanding of the principles of sustainability, the interpretation and practice of sustainable development, and the changing socio-political and environmental context within which plans are generated and implemented.
  • Contemporary Issues in Planning Practice and Research provides an opportunity to study developing issues in planning practice, particularly the legal aspects of decision making, using examples from areas of current controversy. A hands on exercise is included, such as participating in a mock public inquiry for a real planning case.
  • Research Methods (Public Policy) provides a critical knowledge of methods and skills of research and their application to investigative work that informs public policy.
  • MSc Dissertation is an individual research study of up to 15,000 words. It reveals abilities to define and research an issue or problem of relevance to the discipline of planning and to make a contribution to knowledge in the chosen area of specialisation (see below).

MSc students are offered a high degree of choice and flexibility in terms of their area of specialisations and choose 40 Credits of modules and (subject to availability and student numbers) these currently include: (Please note not all specialisations run on the days part-time students are in).

Environmental Decision Making

  • Principles of Environmental Assessment and Management sets EIA and SEA in the context of sustainability, environmental policy making and the derivation of environmental values. It addresses the availability and use of environmental resources, reviews methods for conserving these resources, and discusses the aims and interactions of various interest groups, and methods of public participation in environmental decision making.

Historic Conservation

  • Design for Conservation provides an introduction to the differing philosophies underlying approaches to building in historic places. It examines the role of design guides, design codes and site briefs in securing appropriate development in sensitive historic locations.
  • Conservation Economics is a half unit which provides an introduction to financial and economic aspects specific to the conservation of buildings. The module combines with Historic Conservation in Context, which provides an introduction and critical examination of the legal measures that exist to preserve and enhance the historic environment.
  • Conservation and Regeneration: Theory, Law and Practice focuses on various theoretical and practical concepts in the field of conservation and heritage and the different values and interest which they reflect.
  • Building Construction and Repair examines the properties of traditional materials and their selection and their section and use in conservation.

Planning in Developing and Transitional Regions

  • Development and Urbanisation examines the theories, processes and consequences of rapid urbanisation in the developing world within the context of economic development and social change.

Urban Design

  • Urban Design Studio I introduces you to advanced methods, techniques and concepts in urban design through the medium of a specific site development project.
  • Urban Design Theory I and II further develops an awareness of client groups, user needs, and professional and legal requirements of the urban environment, placing these in the context of a specific design project on a nominated site.
  • Urban Design Development Seminars provide an opportunity for students to bring the knowledge and skills developed in the other urban design modules together in student led workshops.

Urban and Regional Regeneration

  • Regeneration and Neighbourhood Planning critically examines key issues in current theory, policy and practice, focusing on neighbourhood renewal, people-based approaches to regeneration and neighbourhood planning. The module makes extensive use of case studies to explore the links between physical and social regeneration.

PGDip level
The PGDip level of the course is based on the completion of the compulsory elements listed above, except the dissertation.

40 Credits of Alternative Compulsory Modules are added to give 140 Credits. All students must complete 140 Credits. If you seek an exemption or transferred credit for any element of this award you must select an alternative module in its place.

Specialist planning programmes:

  • MSc in Environmental Assessment and Management (EAM) examines the background to EAM, particularly in the context of planning, natural resource management and principles. It develops skills in environmental impact assessment and environmental management.
  • MSc in Historic Conservation examines the principles, procedures and practices of historic conservation within the context of the wider built environment and the planning process. It develops skills and capabilities in practical conservation techniques and evaluation.
  • MA in Urban Design brings together theory and practice from several fields to demonstrate urban design as an integrated discipline. The focus is practical and seeks to engender positive intervention in the production of the public realm.
  • MSc Infrastructure and Sustainable Development examines a new approach to studying infrastucture planning and delivery in rapidly growing cities of middle and low income countries and is designed to make the step change needed to meet the sustainability challenges of the 21st century.

Teaching and learning

Learning methods include lectures, directed reading, workshops, seminars, and practical and project work. Some modules include site visits and fieldwork.

Teaching is organised on a module-credit basis, involving approximately 200 hours of personal study and approximately 36 hours of staff contact, normally delivered through three-hour teaching blocks over a 12-week period.

Approach to assessment

Each course module is assessed individually, generally on the quality of written or design work, and to some extent on verbal presentations. Assessment methods may include essays, seminar papers, formal written examinations, in-class tests, project work, design and verbal presentations, workshops, simulations and practical exercises.

Field trips

The MSc in Spatial Planning includes a compulsory overseas field trip that is part of the two semester 1 core modules. The field trip is designed to provide students with practical examples and experience of planning in another European country.

The trip usually takes place in mid-November and normally includes three to four nights away from the UK. In the past, this field trip has been to Barcelona, Amsterdam and Lyon. The current destination is Dublin. The teaching staff are constantly reviewing new destinations that can best contribute to students' overall planning education.

The cost of meals etc will be met by students.

Other half or full-day field trips often form part of the individual programmes of specialist modules.

Students will also need to cover the costs of printing for submissions and presentations associated with assessment.

Attendance pattern

Teaching is organised on a module-credit basis.  Each module involves approximately 200 hours of personal study and approximately 36 hours of staff contact, normally delivered through three-hour teaching blocks over a 12-week period.

In recent years, teaching has been largely concentrated on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with two modules taught on each day. Generally the first year of the part time course takes place on Thursdays, and the second year on Tuesdays, whilst the full time course has teaching on both these days.

Programme changes

On rare occasions we may need to make changes to our course programmes after they have been published on the website. For more information, please visit our Changes to programmes page.

Tuition fees

Home/EU - full time fee: 2019/20: £7,270 (Masters) £6,100 (Diploma) 2020/21: £8,500 (Masters) £7,500 (Diploma)

Home/EU - part time off-campus fee: 2019/20: £3,710 2020/21: £4,250

International - full time: 2019/20: £14,000 2020/21: £14,700

Where part time fees are quoted this is for the first year only. Fees will increase by up to 4% each year.

Please be aware that some courses will involve some additional costs that are not covered by your fees. Specific additional costs for this course, if any, are detailed in the 'This course in detail' window above.

Questions about fees?
Contact Student Finance on:
+44 (0)1865 483088

Funding and scholarships

Entry requirements

The course is open to applicants who hold a 2.1 undergraduate honours degree (or international equivalent) in any discipline, as well as those seeking continuing professional development.

We will actively consider applications from candidates with lower degrees, who can evidence relevant planning & development experience. 

Applications will also be considered from those who have no first degree but have three or more years' professional experience in planning, and have completed the university's Certificate in Spatial Planning Studies.

English language requirements

If your first language is not English you will require a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 overall with 6.0 in all components.


An equivalent English language qualification acceptable to the University.

Please also see the university's standard English language requirements

English requirements for visas

If you need a student visa to enter the UK you will need to meet the UK Visas and Immigration minimum language requirements as well as the university's requirements. Find out more about English language requirements.

International applications

Preparation courses for International and EU students

We offer a range of courses to help you to meet the entry requirements for this course and also familiarise you with university life. You may also be able to apply for one student visa to cover both courses.

  • Take our Pre-Master's course to help you to meet both the English language and academic entry requirements for your master's course.
  • If you need to improve your English language, we have pre-sessional English language courses available to help you to meet the English language requirements of your chosen master’s.

If you are studying outside the UK, for more details about your specific country entry requirements, translated information, local contacts and programmes within your country, please have a look at our country pages.

How to apply

There is no formal application deadline (recruitment closes when teaching capacity is reached). However, we advise applying in good advance to secure places, and allow sufficient time for applications to be reviewed. 
Applicants should also factor any time needed to meet offer conditions, arrange accommodation, and obtain a UK Tier 4 visa (if applicable).

Terms and Conditions of Enrolment

When you accept our offer, you agree to the Terms and Conditions of Enrolment. You should therefore read those conditions before accepting the offer.

How this course helps you develop

Our courses make much use of invited lectures from planning practice, allowing students to get a feel for the world of current nature of the planning and development industry. In addition the wide spread of backgrounds and current work positions among students on our courses gives access to much valuable experience within each planning cohort.


Not only is the MSc in Spatial Planning seen as the benchmark qualification for professional planners, it is also widely recognised as providing the transferable skills and critical knowledge necessary in many fields of work in the built and natural environment. 

Local government is just one of very many career opportunities available to MSc in Spatial Planning graduates.

Today our alumni can be found in senior positions in some of the largest international planning and environmental consultancies, in government agencies, in large NGOs and campaigning organisations. They can also be found in similar positions in organisations across the globe.

How Brookes supports postgraduate students

Supporting your learning

From academic advisers and support co-ordinators to specialist subject librarians and other learning support staff, we want to ensure that you get the best out of your studies.

Research highlights

With more than 600 students engaging a wide range of research topics in our undergraduate, postgraduate and research degree programmes, including Master's by research, the department is widely recognised as a leading educator in environment, design and development subjects. 

With a complement of over 60 teaching, administrative, technical and research staff, the department performs a leading role in research and consultancy, with clients and projects covering subjects from local concerns to multinational organisations, government and industry.

Research areas and clusters

Key areas of expertise and scholarship in the department form the research groups and units listed below.

These research groups and units also comprise a substantial part of the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD):

Impact Assessment Group
is a designated EC Europa Centre of Excellence in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which brings together one of the largest teams of expertise in this field worldwide. Our clients include, among others, the European Commission, UK Government/Agencies, local government and the commercial sector. (Director: Dr Graham Wood)

Spatial Planning Group
brings together a wide range of intellectual and policy concerns within spatial planning and cognate fields, both nationally and internationally. Much of its work falls under the heading of sustainable development, with a particular focus on three major areas of study: Planning Thought and Governance; Economic Development, Innovation and Regeneration; and Accessibility, Transportation and Migration. The group reflects a commitment to recognise and build on cross-cutting and multidisciplinary interests within the broad remit of spatial planning, as well as advancing more established research strengths in specific fields. SPG members have a strong track record in research funding, including: ESRC, EPSRC, DCLG (ODPM), NESTA, JRF, British Academy, EIB, RTPI, and SEEDA. (Director: Dr Dave Valler)

Urban Design Group
is one of the largest UK providers of research expertise in urban design and conservation matters. Our clients include, amongst others, UK Government/Agencies, local government, the commercial sector and a number of international agencies, governments and research councils. (Director: Prof Georgia Butina Watson)

The Department of Planning has links with universities worldwide, including Canada, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Ghana, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan, Romanian, Serbia, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and most EU member states. There are exciting opportunities for collaborative research, exchanges and study overseas. The Department has an impressive list of funders and clients covering UK and EU government, research funding councils, industry and local government.