Funded PhD Opportunity 'Hard Borders' and 'Soft Spaces' – Planning for Functional Geographies in a post-Brexit Landscape

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


Over many decades, the European Union has nurtured a culture of spatial planning that encourages: (1) greater cooperation between planning systems across member states; (2) coherence across policy social, economic and environmental goals, and; (3) cohesion through formal (‘hard space’) arenas and informal (‘soft space’) networks.

On the island of Ireland, an expression of such thinking and working has been captured in the joint jurisdictional and cross-departmental Framework for Co-operation: Spatial Strategies of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As a construct to support cross-border spatial planning it represents the first attempt to formalise bilateral commitment to cooperate beyond traditional territorial boundaries through the notion of ‘functional geographies’. In many ways, this cooperative framework aligns with the growing practice of spatial planning elsewhere, which has been witnessing an expansion of planning processes outside its traditional ‘hard spaces’ of jurisdictional regulation, much of which has been captured in the scholarly literature of late (Walsh, 2015; Allmendinger, et al., 2015).

However, the uncertainty from Brexit and the likely ‘hardening’ of the border on the island of Ireland presents unprecedented challenges – and perhaps opportunities – for considering how the idea of functional geographies will continue to operate in a post-Brexit landscape. While local authorities and administrative jurisdictions tend to be used as proxies for understanding functional geographies, they arguably stifle alternative spatial interpretations of what might constitute local and/or strategic social, economic and environmental functionality (Jones, 2016).

This doctoral research aims to critically consider the notion of functional geographies across territorial boundaries. In particular, the research seeks to contribute to our understanding of the value of ‘soft spaces’ for supporting cross-border planning, coordinating sustainable development, and achieving social, economic and environmental wellbeing outcomes in functional geographies on the island of Ireland.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
12 March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Dr Neale Blair

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #237919 when applying for this PhD opportunity