From 1984 to 1986 John worked on the Greater London Development Plan, the London Industrial Strategy and the London Infrastructure Plan whilst employed by the Greater London Council. During the late 1980s, John worked for the policy think tank, SEEDS where he prepared and managed a series of policy and sector strategies for key economic sectors, infrastructure projects and urban planning schemes for the South East of England. These included the pharmaceuticals, defence electronics, financial services and retail industries, infrastructure projects such as the Channel Tunnel, water and transport, and place-specific studies on town centre revitalization and the leisure economy for towns such as Brighton, Stevenage, Crawley, Oxford, Swindon, Reading and Cambridge. He continues to work across Australia and in the UK.
This was followed by three years as a consultant and director of Comedia Consultancy where he managed teams working on a major national study of UK town and city centres, Out of Hours (1990), published by the Gulbenkian Foundation. In 1988 and 1989 John produced two strategies for the economic development of the creative industries in Manchester and the North West of England. In 1992 he produced a study on the prospects for developing London’s creative industries, and followed this up in 1994 with strategy for the creative industries in West London. In 1994, John was part of a team which was 'highly commended' by the Royal Town Planning Institute's Planning Achievement Awards for a report on Hertfordshire's economic development and spatial planning strategy, 'Bright Green', organised around a combination of environmental stewardship and the new media industries. These and other projects on the economic development of the creative industries, have been instrumental in the growth of creative clusters at various locations across the UK.
In 1991, he advised the Irish government on the creation of a cultural quarter in the Temple Bar area of Dublin, which is now regarded across Europe as an innovative and modern urban planning initiative. Over a period of some 18 months, John jointly led an Urban Cultures team in researching and devising the Urban Cultural Strategy for Manchester, a framework for boosting the cultural economy, reimaging the city, developing the evening economy and reclaiming the public realm. This has been followed by major urban regeneration and area revitalisation strategies in many cities, including Manchester's Northern Quarter, Glasgow's Merchant City, Grainger Town in Newcastle, Edinburgh New Town, Belfast Northside and East Gateshead. In 1998 he prepared an area development strategy and framework for the Sheffield Cultural Industries Quarter. In 2000 he prepared development programmes for Dundee's emerging cultural quarter and the Wood Green Cultural Industries Quarter.
He is recognised as one of the leading authorities on the evening economy, and has organised four major conferences on this subject - The 24 Hour City - in Manchester in 1993, in Cardiff in 1995, Sheffield in 1996 and London in 1998. Urban Cultures have now undertaken many research projects and strategies for developing greater diversity of activity in towns and cities around the clock, including in Adelaide, Sunderland, Derry, Hackney, Bristol, Hamilton and Sheffield. In 2002 John prepared a Joint Policy Statement on Licensed Premises for Sunderland City Council and Northumbria Police. In 2003, he prepared Colchester’s Strategy to Tackle Late Night Disorder.
John was part of the project team for New Ebbsfleet from 1994 to 1996. His role was to advise on the urban design guidelines and codes for developing a 'new piece of city'. This has been followed by a series of assignments to prepare urban design briefs and master plans for major development schemes, new settlements and urban villages, notably for Stratford Rail Lands, Apsley Mills in Hertfordshire, and the redesign of Telford New Town and Southampton central area. John has also led a teams of architects and urban designers on projects to create new public spaces in London and Barnsley. His work also takes him overseas, and assignments have included projects in Dublin, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Prague, Adelaide and Melbourne; as well as training and workshop sessions in Perth, Newcastle NSW, Auckland and Fremantle.
Projects undertaken in Australia from 2003-2006 include master-planning of a cultural precinct in Newcastle, drafting of the City of Melbourne’s Arts and Cultural Strategy, place-making for the City of Unley’s identity corridors, the regeneration of Kingston Foreshore in Canberra, the redesign of Perth’s Cultural Centre as a Cultural Quarter, the regeneration of Hobart Waterfront, a development framework for Darling Harbour East in Sydney, an animation programme for Melbourne’s CBD laneways, a feasibility study for the use of Flinders Street Station as a creative industries managed workspace, a performing arts facilities and feasibility study for Canberra, a concept study for the reuse of the Honeysuckle Railway Workshops in Newcastle, the revitalisation of Newcastle Mall, a cultural venues and places strategy for Parramatta, a master plan for Port Adelaide, a concept design for a new square in Fremantle, area imaging of Fremantle’s West End, and advice on an economic development strategy for the creative industries in Perth.
Most recently John has worked on projects in Newcastle (NSW), Sydney, Gosford, Brisbane, Geelong and Port Macquarie. This includes the Cultural Strategy for South Brisbane Peninsula, Queensland’s knowledge economy clusters, the Brisbane Smart City Initiative and the Queensland Design Centre; a management strategy for Oxford Street, Sydney as a cultural quarter; and an interpretation plan for the Royal Newcastle Hospital.
John is author of a number of books, articles and reports on economic development, urbanism and urban design, and cultural planning. His book on The New Wealth of Cities was published in 2007, by Ashgate.
He has also been a speaker at many international conferences, and has given public lectures as far afield as Edinburgh, Prague, London, Melbourne, Dublin, Brighton, Auckland and Liverpool.