Building the Capacity of the Planning System to deliver Public Interest in Northern Ireland. A Scoping Paper

Jenny Crawford*, Geraint Ellis, Linda Fox-Rogers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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A planning system’s key function is to ensure that development does not damage public interests. These interests are not only economic but also environmental and social and can conflict with each other. Therefore definitions of ‘public interest’ are always being contested. At the same time, planning systems also seek to increase public benefit from the development process. Major debates exist around achieving fair, equitable processes and optimising outcomes: what decision-making structures, frameworks and resources can best deliver for local communities and/or the region as a whole? Recent reviews of planning systems in the UK and the Republic of Ireland have revealed major public concerns about their capacity to meet public needs and expectations. Despite the implementation of important reforms aimed at improving the accountability and local responsiveness of the system in Northern Ireland, a survey of stakeholders carried out by the authors of this report indicates that it shares key challenges, including: • Low levels of trust in the planning system to deliver in the public interest • Ineffective engagement with key community and environmental interest • Lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making processes • The need for a broad range of environmental and social issues to be far better addressed by planning, including climate change and the provision of accessible green space. In responding to these challenges, key considerations will be: • The incorporation of a strengthened framework of rights for citizens and community-based organisations into planning and environmental legislation: rights to information; rights to participate and rights to challenge in development decision-making. • The integration of community-led plans (e.g. ‘place plans’) into the development planning process. This includes support and recognition for community 4 planning processes and clear links with the production and role of local development plans. • More effective and accountable delivery of the well-being needs of local residents in planning decisions, including access to green space, play space, safe mobility, local services and affordable housing. • A closer link between planning and environmental protection and responses to climate change. • Enhanced training and support for local decision-makers at both the local authority and community level. • Strengthened checks and balances that ensure transparency and build public trust. • A clear monitoring and review structure for the planning system, based on explicit rights, goals and reporting (see e.g. national planning performance coordinator (Scotland) and planning regulator (Republic of Ireland)). Addressing these challenges will require, above all, political leadership, in both Stormont and local authorities, that highlights the significant role that the planning system, harnessing the energies of all stakeholders, is expected to play in the future development of Northern Ireland and its communities.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherQueen's University Belfast
Commissioning bodyDevelopment Trust NI
Number of pages32
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2020


  • Planning
  • Public interest
  • community engagment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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