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Accessibility Modelling and Spatial Inequalities Group

Led by Professor Gary Higgs and Professor Mitch Langford, and supported by PhD students and post-doctoral research staff, the Accessibility Modelling and Spatial Inequalities team has engaged widely with academics from other institutions in addition to working with external partners drawn from local and national government agencies and third sector organisations. 

As part of its work examining geographical variation in a range of public and private services, the team has worked with organisations including Sport Wales, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, the Welsh Government’s Knowledge and Analytical Services and the Department for Economy, Skills and Natural Resources divisions, and Tenovus Cancer Care. There is also on-going collaboration with researchers based at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Queensland, Australia in areas such as the use of GIS in crime mapping and emergency planning. 

The group is primarily focussed on applying geographical information systems and advanced methods of spatial analyses to a broad range of practical application areas, in particular focussing on geographies of social inequality and seeking to measure and thereby improve our understanding of geographical accessibility to both public and private sector services. 

Recent research activities

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This research was undertaken by Dr Mitch Langford whilst appointed as an Academic Fellow of the Senedd Commission to work on "Exploring geographical patterns in the changing landscape of financial services provision in Wales".  

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It applied advanced spatial analysis techniques and spatial database queries to better map the recent, rapid, and on-going declines in the provision of high street banks, building societies and other facilities associated with access to personal banking services. 

This work allows an examination of these on-going structural changes at a hitherto unobtainable geographical scale, leading to a better understanding of the potential impacts experienced by local communities and businesses across Wales.  

GIS Research

Associated Peer-reviewed Publications 

LANGFORD, M., PRICE, A, and HIGGS, G. (2022) Combining temporal and multi-modal approaches to better measure accessibility to banking services ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information. 11, 6, 22 p., 

LANGFORD, M., HIGGS, G. AND JONES, S. (2020) Understanding spatial variations in accessibility to banks using variable floating catchment area techniques. Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy. 

GIS Research Tenovus Cancer Care

Professor Gary Higgs, Dr Mitch Langford, and KESS-funded PhD student Richard Williams have been working with partner Tenovus Cancer Care on research that seeks to optimise the locations of their mobile chemotherapy units. Open-source approaches have been used to demonstrate the application of such tools to planning the siting of mobile clinics to complement the provision of hospital-based cancer services in Wales. These sites can provide local services for those patients previously having to travel long distances to access their treatment.

Associated Peer-reviewed Publications 

WILLIAMS, R., HIGGS, G. & LANGFORD, M. (2019) The usability of open source tools to measure access to health services; analysing mobile cancer unit location. Proceedings of the GIS Research UK conference, April 2019. University of Newcastle, p. 1-7. 

GIS Research

In addition to the applied research activities described elsewhere, members of this group are engaged in the theoretical development of spatial analytical techniques that underlay the quantitative assessment of services accessibility. Most notably, this has led to a modified methodology more finely tuned to analyse the accessibility of transport systems themselves, and specifically to bus-stops that form the vital point of entry to public bus services. Research has also led to the publication of an enhanced algorithm to extend the widely used enhanced two-step floating catchment area methodology so it is able to consider also those systems where more than one transport mode is operational, for example such as when the combined use of private cars, public buses, and cycling routes are all of interest. 

Associated Peer-reviewed Publications 

LANGFORD, M., HIGGS, G. and FRY, R. (2016) Multi-modal two-step floating catchment area analysis of primary health care accessibility, Health and Place, 38, 70-81. 

LANGFORD, M., FRY, R. and HIGGS, G. (2012) Measuring transit system accessibility using a modified two-step floating catchment technique, International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 26, 2, 193-214.  

GIS Research

Innovative spatial analytical techniques based around the use of GIS-based network models are being used to reveal spatial and temporal variations in accessibility to services such as healthcare provision, post offices and public libraries, in relation to deprivation in Wales. For example, the analysis of geographical access to public libraries in Wales has produced novel and important findings. Levels of provision were estimated for two cross‐sections in time to gain an understanding of the potential implications of changes in service delivery models. Overall, levels of geographical accessibility to public library provision in Wales were found to have declined between 2011 and 2018, coinciding with notable reductions in public library funding over the same period. This research reveals spatial inequalities in provision with areas of declining provision often coinciding with pockets of greater economic deprivation. 

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Analytical techniques used to compute access to services rely heavily on the use of spatial databases and GIS technologies. For example, it requires the ability to model large and complex connected networks of roads along with associated attributes such as travel speeds and one-way restrictions. Each road segment is stored and tracked in a database through a unique identifier, along with all points of intersection (nodes). 

Added to this are locations and attributes of demand populations (typically Census-derived population counts relating to particular cohorts of interest such as the elderly, those with limited access to a private car, the unemployed, etc.) and service delivery centres (including where available relevant supply-side parameters such as capacities, opening-hours, or range of facilities offered). 

database in order to compute the network distance or estimated travel time between paired supply and demand locations. Outputs are combined to provide final scores for the levels of accessibility likely to be experienced by local communities when the local supply configurations and the effects of competing demand centres are accounted for. 

Associated Peer-reviewed Publications  

PAGE, N., LANGFORD, M. & HIGGS, G. (2020) Exploring spatiotemporal variations in public library provision following a prolonged period of economic austerity: a GIS approach.Area. 52, 2, 342–353. 

HIGGS, G., LANGFORD, M., JARVIS, P., PAGE, N., RICHARDS, J. & FRY, R. (2019) Using Geographic Information Systems to investigate variations in accessibility to ‘extended hours’ primary healthcare provision.Health and Social Care in the Community. 27, 4, 1074-1084. 

FREW, R., HIGGS, G., HARDING, J. & LANGFORD, M. (2017)Investigating geospatial data usability from a health geography perspective using sensitivity analysis: the example of potential accessibility to primary healthcare. Journal of Transport and Health. 6, 128-142 

LANGFORD, M. and HIGGS, G. (2013) Investigating the validity of rural-urban distinctions in the impacts of changing service provision: The example of postal service reconfiguration in Wales. Geoforum. 47, 53 - 64. 

LANGFORD, M., HIGGS, G. & FRY, R. (2013) Investigating variations in the provision of digital services in public libraries using network-based GIS models. Library and Information Science Research. 35, 1, 24 - 32. 

LANGFORD, M. and HIGGS, G. (2010) Accessibility and public service provision: Evaluating the impacts of the Post Office Network Change Programme in the UK. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35, 4, 585-501. 

LANGFORD, M. and HIGGS, G. (2006) Measuring Potential Access to Primary Healthcare Services: The Influence of Alternative Spatial Representations of Population. The Professional Geographer, 58, 3, 294-306. 

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Research funded by the ESRC through the WISERD Civil Society initiative has involved the use of quantitative techniques to measure small area variations in the volunteering base, and possible associations with variations in proxy measures of social capital. Most recently this has involved a study of the respective importance of compositional (individual) and contextual (neighbourhood) factors associated with the propensity to engage in formal volunteering among a nationally representative sample of adults in Wales. 

Regarding small area measures of social capital, the potential of several data sources has been investigated and associations sought between spatial trends in these data sets and measures such as the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD) and other indicators of socio-economic circumstances. Research is on-going to examine potential relationships between the volunteering base in Wales and trends in access to those services which are reliant upon volunteering inputs to varying degrees.   

Associated Peer-reviewed Publications  

HIGGS, G., PAGE, N. and LANGFORD, M. (2021) Exploring the relationship between local volunteering opportunities and the propensity to volunteer using a nationally representative survey of adults in Wales, Journal of Civil Society  Pages: 1-18 | DOI: 10.1080/17448689.2021.1923903ng. 

PAGE, N., HIGGS, G. and LANGFORD, M. (2018) An exploratory analysis of spatial variations in organ donation registration rates in the five years prior to implementation of the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, Health and Place, 52, 18-24.  

Welsh Assembly Government logo

Techniques used to calculate spatial accessibility in existing indices of multiple deprivation (IMD) rely on ‘traditional’ metrics rather than adopting more recent methodological enhancements. 

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This research seeks to investigate the potential implications of adopting floating catchment area (FCA) approaches to measuring spatial accessibility within an existing IMD framework. FCA-derived accessibility scores have been substituted for existing measures to evaluate their potential impacts on the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD). The findings to date have been shared with the Welsh Government, ensuring close synergy between WISERD scientific impact and policy impact outside academia.  

Associated Peer-reviewed Publications

PAGE, N., LANGFORD, M. and HIGGS, G. (2019) Measuring spatial accessibility to services within indices of multiple deprivation: implications of applying an enhanced two-step floating catchment area (E2SFCA) approach, Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy, 12, 2, 321-348 

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The availability of sports facilities has been shown to be one of the primary influences on participation in a range of sports. In partnership with Sport Wales, our research is applying innovative methods to measure spatial variations in the location and quality of sporting infrastructure and analyse the implications of potential changes in the configuration of facilities such as leisure centres, swimming pools and outdoor recreation centres. 

GIS Research

Dr Mitch Langford, Professor Gary Higgs, and KESS-funded PhD student Andrew Price are working with Sport Wales to develop web-based solutions to computing and visualising sophisticated accessibility scores. The system currently draws on a database of gymnastics facilities, issuing REST API calls to a server running an Open Trip Planner service to supply routes, distances and travel times. This architecture allows multi-mode travel (car, bus, cycling, walking) by using online GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) data feeds to supply up-to-the-minute details of public transport services, and a network of roads, cycleways and footpaths derived from Open Street Map data. Results are fed back to the browser using the Leaflet API to provide instant and interactive visualisation of the outputs. 

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Associated Peer-reviewed Publications

PRICE, A., LANGFORD, M., HIGGS, G. and RADCLIFFE J. (2020) The design and development of a client-server based tool to compute accessibility to sporting facilities in Wales.Presented at GIS Research UK conference, July 2020. Birkbeck University/UCL 

LANGFORD, M., HIGGS, G. and RADCLIFFE, J. (2018) The application of network-based GIS tools to investigate spatial variations in the provision of sporting facilities. Annals of Leisure Research. 21, 2, 178-198. 

HIGGS, G., LANGFORD, M. and NORMAN P. (2015) Accessibility to sports facilities in Wales: A GIS-based analysis of socio-economic variations in provision. Geoforum. 62, 1, 105-120 

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This research was undertaken on behalf of the Care Inspectorate Wales, a division of the Welsh Government. Its aim was to help in the development and implementation of policy relating to an election manifesto pledge to provide early education and childcare for all working parents in Wales. 


Its outputs have provided critical insights into the spatially complex supply-to-demand patterns relating to childcare provision across Wales, and the maps produced were used by decision-makers to visualise the distribution of potential demand for childcare placements in comparison to current spatial availability of childcare services. This work was taken up by the Welsh Government and used to guide the choice of pilot studies that informed the roll out of the full childcare offer. 

Associated Peer-reviewed Publications 

LANGFORD, M., HIGGS, G. and DALLIMORE, D. (2019) Investigating spatial variations in access to childcare provision using network-based GIS models, Social Policy and Administration, 53, 5, 661-677 

Thomas, H., Crocker, S., Wilton, J., Davies, C., Langford, M. and Higgs, G. (2017) Childcare capacity in Wales: mapping childcare supply against potential demand. Welsh Government. Social Research; vol. 2017, no. 65 

Contact us

If you have any questions about our research or would like to collaborate with us, please contact Professor Gary Higgs.

Research Opportunities

We welcome UK and international applications from suitably qualified graduates interested in joining us for either Masters by Research or PhD research programmes. We particularly encourage applications from candidates that hold a degree at graduate or Masters level in computer science, Geographical Information Science, data science, informatics, or Geography with significant quantitative elements.

Find out more on the Graduate School website or contact Professor Gary Higgs for an informal discussion.


Profesor Gary Higgs

Professor Gary Higgs is the Director of the GIS Research Centre. Since 2008, he has served as a Co-Director of the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD). His over-arching research interests are in the application of GIS in social and environmental studies, most recently in the areas of health geography, environmental justice, and emergency planning. Professor Higgs is an Editorial Board Member for the International Journal of Health Geographics and a Senior Fellow of ESRC's National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM).


Mitch Langford is Professor of Spatial Analysis and Geoinformatics, and a co-director of the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD). He has an international reputation for cutting-edge research particularly in dasymetric mapping for areal interpolation and small-area population estimation, and applied geospatial analyses in the fields of healthcare, social inequality and environmental justice. In 2020 Mitch was appointed as an Academic Fellow of the Senedd Commission (the Senedd/Welsh Parliament’s corporate body) to work on "Exploring geographical patterns in the changing landscape of financial services provision in Wales". 

Liam Web, who graduated from USW with a first-class Honours Degree in Information Communication Technology, is a MPhil/PhD research student with a working title of "Using web-based technologies to better understand and present temporal variations in access to public services".

Richard Williams's doctoral thesis was titled 'Developing open-source tools and support materials to measure geographical accessibility to screening and cancer support services'.

Robin Frew's doctoral thesis was titled 'GIS-based accessibility modelling as a means of evaluating geospatial data usability'.