Town Planning Review

Developer contributions and community benefits: understanding the regulatory context for the implementation of a value-capturing instrument in Northern Ireland

Town Planning Review (2021), 92, (5), 615–642.


Developer contributions have a rich history in all UK jurisdictions, other than in Northern Ireland (NI). This paper presents a moment in NI’s planning modernisation in which a scheme of developer contributions has been introduced, primarily by Belfast City Council. There has been little scholarship devoted to NI’s planning reform, however, there has been considerable attention directed to the increasingly neo-liberal governing landscape in which these reforms took place. We consider this debate and try to place the implementation of developer contributions in this context. Our primary evidence is based on policy analysis, committee records and interviews with stakeholders across the planning community. In the case we have presented the lack of definition around what constitutes a community benefit has opened space for deliberation across the NI planning community. This discussion has encouraged a debate that broadly centres around a neo-liberal abstraction of the purpose of developer contributions. When considering the subject of this special issue, Rethinking Regulation, we question what the purpose is for developer contributions as a contemporary planning process. We do this by investigating the relationship between ‘community’ and the ‘public interest’ under neo-liberal governing regimes. We present issues of policy ambiguity, of scale and of viability as a decision-making tool. We conclude that deverloper contributions in NI have become an instrument that is narrow in purpose, yet one which has become codified around a market-focused rationality. We finally reflect on policy performance to date, highlighting a seemingly inherent difficulty for planning authorities in realising social outcomes through developer contributions.

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Author details

Kearney, Matthew

Ritchie, Heather