Peter Batey

I grew up in the north of England and went to school in Bury where I took ‘A’ Levels in maths, physics and geography in the sixth form. After leaving school in the mid-1960s, I took an undergraduate degree in geography at Sheffield University and a Master’s degree in planning, at Liverpool University. I was clearly a product of the quantitative revolution in geography which also affected planning and, in particular, planning methodology. My background in maths was to prove very useful in picking up the latest analytical methods and I was extremely fortunate that in my first two jobs, working in local authority planning departments in the early 1970s, I had a marvellous opportunity to use the these methods in a practical context.

The first two years of the geography degree at Sheffield were unremarkable and really quite dull. The final year, however, proved to be a turning point when a new professor was appointed, Stan Gregory. Gregory had made his name at Liverpool University as one of the leading lights in quantitative geography. His textbook on statistical methods had a major influence on British geography in the 1960s. I took full advantage of Gregory’s courses, including a Master’s-level module in multivariate statistics and what was surely a unique course on water resources development. I found this invaluable much later in my career when I began my involvement in the Mersey Basin Campaign, cleaning up North West England’s heavily-polluted rivers.

I wanted a career in which I could use geography and, with this in mind, had begun to think of doing a Master’s degree in planning. It was Stan Gregory again who steered me to Liverpool where one of his former students Ian Masser, by now a planning academic, was committed to re-structuring the Master’s curriculum to include analytical planning techniques. Ian deserves great credit for making me aware of the Regional Science Association and introducing me to the burgeoning regional science literature. Reflecting this, my Master’s dissertation on zoning system design combined two areas of regional science: geodemographics and spatial interaction modelling.

The early years of my professional career were spent in local government working in two local authority planning departments, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, in North West England. At the time large planning departments like these had a programme of applied research used to support strategic plan-making. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that large local authorities were far more active in planning research than most university planning schools. There was a genuine interest in fresh ideas that would advance the methods of plan-making. Despite being a new recruit and still in my early twenties, I was given a remarkable amount of freedom to work on a range of regional science methods and models, managing the projects myself. At Lancashire, for example, I had the opportunity in the early 1970s to develop and apply a Lowry model for the sub-regional plan of North East Lancashire. And, in the lead-up to a major local government reorganization in 1974, I had responsibility for carrying out two geodemographic classifications of small area census data for the new metropolitan authority, Greater Manchester Council, breaking new ground in planning practice. Soon afterwards, working as a transport planner, I led a project to develop and test the impact of long-term land-use scenarios upon the transport system of Greater Manchester using the SELNEC Model first developed by regional scientist Alan Wilson in the UK Government’s Mathematical Advisory Unit in the mid-1960s.

I have never regretted the time I spent in local authorities and I benefited enormously from the excellent environment they gave in which to do good applied work. However, I gradually realized that my future career lay in universities and that I needed to make the transition sooner rather than later. The ideal opportunity arose when Masser moved to a chair at the University of Utrecht in 1975. I was fortunate enough to be offered the lectureship he vacated at Liverpool.

Other recent appointments at Liverpool were Moss Madden and Peter Brown, both of whom had studied civil engineering before moving into planning and were therefore, like me, relatively numerate. Ian Masser, who had planted the regional science seed in all three of us, remained our mentor, in the absence of Liverpool-based research active senior colleagues. I developed a very productive working relationship with both of them, but on different topics.

Moss and I shared an interest in the integrated forecasting of population and economic activity. Up to that point, strategic planners generally made separate population and employment forecasts which were unlikely to be consistent one with another. Our major contribution to solving this problem came in the design and construction of a series of regional extended input-output models, adding demographic variables to the well-known Leontief inter-industry model. It led to us proposing the so-called Batey-Madden extended model which allows more realistic impact multipliers to be calculated by recognising the differences in income and consumption associated with households containing varying combinations of employed and unemployed workers. We collaborated on more than twenty papers in which the basic model was extended further and used in a number of practical situations, including measurement of the economic impact of regional demographic change and impact studies of airport expansion and tidal barrage construction. The paper I am most proud of presents a detailed structural comparison of nine different extended models (in Environment and Planning A, 17 (1), 1985). It was written during a sabbatical I spent at the University of Illinois and benefited greatly from the encouragement of Geoff Hewings, as did all of our work on input-output analysis.

My work with Peter Brown had a quite different focus. It built upon the earlier research I had done on geodemographic classification systems in Greater Manchester. The new research developed national classifications of residential neighbourhoods based on large amounts of socio-economic and demographic census data. Initially involving collaboration with Stan Openshaw, these geodemographic classifications – known as Super Profiles (1981 and 1991 censuses) and People and Places (2001 and 2011 censuses) - have been applied in a range of public policy and private sector commercial contexts over a thirty-year period. One of the most important applications was in the spatial targeting of urban policy initiatives and the measurement of targeting efficiency.

In the late 1980s Peter Brown and I bid successfully with colleagues from Manchester University for a regional research laboratory (RRL) as part of a major national initiative to promote social science GIS research, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The Liverpool-Manchester RRL had a specific remit to carry out evaluations of urban policy and was encouraged to become self-funding by developing a portfolio of applied research projects, working with a wide range of public sector agencies. Throughout the 1990s there was a healthy demand for urban policy evaluation research and our RRL played a major role in this. I developed skills in partnership working, with fellow academics and with practitioners, and these have proved invaluable in my subsequent career.

The Regional Science Association

It is a common observation that in a professional career taking one opportunity often leads to another opportunity, mostly in an unplanned way. This certainly applies to my many and varied roles within the Regional Science Association. They have been a dominant feature of my whole career. I became secretary of the British Section in the 1970s at a time when regional science conferences in Europe were still largely organized from the RSA’s headquarters in Philadelphia by RSA founder Walter Isard. I was part of the movement that wanted European regional scientists to organize their own conferences and, as a founder member of the European ‘Core Group’ (later to become the EOC), I was lead organizer of the first truly European Congress, held in London in 1979. I never imagined that, in the next thirty years, I would perform the task twice more, for European Congresses in Cambridge (1989) and, with much personal satisfaction, in Liverpool in 2008. Or indeed that I would be invited by my British and Irish Section colleagues to join the Local Organizing Committee for this year’s European Congress in Cork.

Editing is another almost omni-present activity in my career. I was an early editor of Papers in Regional Science, and took on the editorship of two book series on behalf of the British and Irish Section: London Papers in Regional Science, followed by European Research in Regional Science. Currently I am working with David Plane (University of Arizona) on the first of a new series of books that focus on Great Minds in Regional Science. I often recall advice offered to me many years ago by Walter Isard himself: editing papers is an excellent way of keeping abreast with some of the best regional science research and maintaining a broad overview of the field. This has certainly been my own experience.

Over the years, my involvement in the RSAI has provided me with access to an extensive, world-wide community of fellow researchers and practitioners of regional science, and this has turned out to be a priceless asset. Not surprisingly the highlight for me was to be elected to serve as RSAI President: a lot of hard work yes, but also a great honour to be in a position to shape the future of our Association.

Twenty years on from the presidency, my RSAI involvement continues, now as the Association’s Archivist. The Archives are held at Cornell University in the US and provide a rich research resource on the institutional history of the RSAI. During my term as Archivist, I want to encourage more research on different aspects of the history of regional science: on influential regional scientists and on particular regional science concepts and techniques. In my own research I am interested in the history of planning methodology and in the influence that social science, including regional science, has had upon plan-making methods.

Other Activities

It would be wrong to leave this account without saying something about my other academic activities, carried out alongside a career in regional science. When, in 1989, I was appointed to the Lever Chair in Town and Regional Planning at Liverpool, I took a conscious decision to play a fuller role in planning practice, as all of the previous holders of this distinguished chair had done. In my case the obvious thing to do was to develop a portfolio of activities in my home region, North West England. The perfect opportunity came in 1991 with an invitation to me and my department to prepare a strategic plan for the Mersey Estuary, as part of the 25-year Mersey Basin Campaign. The Campaign had been initiated by the prominent UK politician, Michael Heseltine, who argued very persuasively that the economic revival of the North West would never take place unless drastic action was taken to clean up the Mersey and its catchments. The Campaign was a highly successful example of partnership working. I subsequently served as chair, leading the Campaign, and in 2010, as the fourth and final chair, I recommended that the Campaign be brought to a close after 25 years. By this time, it had achieved its original aims and the river could no longer be regarded as the ‘dirty man of Europe’. My involvement with the Mersey continues to this day in my role as Chair of the Mersey Rivers Trust, a new partnership that focuses on environmental improvements across the Mersey catchment.

This, and other activities outside my university, have helped me to develop a concept of what I like to refer to as the ‘useful’ academic who makes a point of first gaining a clear understanding of the practical situation in which she is working and who develops a good two-way relationship with other working partners. It is important to avoid giving the impression that ‘academic knows best’. The skills needed here include political nous and an ability to come up with diplomatic solutions that partners will support.

Finally, it is worth mentioning my roles in university management. Here, as Dean of a Faculty containing all the social sciences and much more besides, I found it helpful to draw on my experience of inter-disciplinary working as a regional scientist to understand the workings of the nine academic departments for which I was responsible. The same applied to my last major role in university management before retirement, as Director of the North West Doctoral Training Centre, a consortium including three universities – Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester –set up to deliver PhD research training to nineteen social science disciplines and inter-disciplinary fields. What might otherwise have been a daunting task was made much more straightforward because, as a regional scientist, I was used to working with fellow academics from a wide range of disciplines.

(Published on RSAI Newsletter 2018 May)

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