The public health implications of a warming urban environment mean that appropriate action by planners, designers and health workers will be necessary to minimise risk under future climate scenarios. Data at an appropriate spatial scale are required by user groups in order to identify key areas of vulnerability. Thermal mapping of a UK urban conurbation was carried out during the summers of 2007 and 2008 with the aim of providing high spatial resolution temperature data. The air temperature results showed an average daytime (night time) urban-rural thermal contrast of 3°C (5°C) on summer days (nights) with ideal urban heat island (UHI) conditions. The intensity of the daytime surface temperature heat island was found to exceed 10°C. The measured data were used to derive an empirical model of spatial temperature patterns based upon characteristics of land use, distance from urban centre and building geometry. This model can be used to provide sub-kilometre resolution temperature data which are required by decision makers and can provide a mechanism for downscaling climate model output. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.