Open Access Study protocol

Physical activity and the rejuvenation of Connswater (PARC study): protocol for a natural experiment investigating the impact of urban regeneration on public health

Mark A Tully12, Ruth F Hunter12, Helen McAneney13, Margaret E Cupples124, Michael Donnelly12, Geraint Ellis5, George Hutchinson16, Lindsay Prior17, Michael Stevenson2 and Frank Kee12*

Author affiliations

1 UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

2 Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

3 Institute of Child Care Research, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

4 Department of General Practice, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

5 School of Planning Architecture and Civil Engineering, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

6 School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

7 School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:774  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-774

Published: 23 August 2013



There is a dearth of evidence regarding the impact of urban regeneration projects on public health, particularly the nature and degree to which urban regeneration impacts upon health-related behaviour change. Natural experiment methodology enables comprehensive large-scale evaluations of such interventions. The Connswater Community Greenway in Belfast is a major urban regeneration project involving the development of a 9 km linear park, including the provision of new cycle paths and walkways. In addition to the environmental improvements, this complex intervention involves a number of programmes to promote physical activity in the regenerated area. The project affords a unique opportunity to investigate the public health impact of urban regeneration.


The evaluation framework was informed by the socio-ecological model and guided by the RE-AIM Framework. Key components include: (1) a quasi-experimental before-and-after survey of the Greenway population (repeated cross-sectional design), in tandem with data from a parallel Northern Ireland-wide survey for comparison; (2) an assessment of changes in the local built environment and of walkability using geographic information systems; (3) semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of survey respondents, and a range of community stakeholders, before and after the regeneration project; and (4) a cost-effectiveness analysis. The primary outcome is change in proportion of individuals identified as being regularly physically active, according to the current UK recommendations. The RE-AIM Framework will be used to make an overall assessment of the impact of the Greenway on the physical activity behaviour of local residents.


The Connswater Community Greenway provides a significant opportunity to achieve long-term, population level behaviour change. We argue that urban regeneration may be conceptualised meaningfully as a complex intervention comprising multiple components with the potential, individually and interactively, to affect the behaviour of a diverse population. The development and implementation of our comprehensive evaluation framework reflects this complexity and illuminates an approach to the empirical, rigorous evaluation of urban regeneration. More specifically, this study will add to the much needed evidence-base about the impact of urban regeneration on public health as well as having important implications for the development of natural experiment methodology.

Physical activity; Built environment; Natural experiment; Mixed methods; Urban regeneration; Behaviour change; Sustainability; Cost-effectiveness; Walkability