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With its partnership between Queen’s University’s Institute of Spatial and Environmental Planning and the Planning Service and the Planning Policy Unit, this project has a unique opportunity to work with the existing Planning system, the Councils, and local community and civic interests in the ‘transition’ process, leading up to the policy and legislative change associated with the transfer of planning powers to the new Councils by 2014. In contributing to a strategic approach to building civic leadership at different levels – from the Planning Service to the Councils to local communities – it will work in partnership with all stakeholders to help:

(a) develop the institutional capacities to re-think and reorganize planning to make it fit for purpose in building a more inclusive, equitable, sustainable and peaceful society.

(b) specifically, help to make the building of a shared society a central feature of the new community planning and spatial planning; and

(c) promote the linkage between local neighbourhood planning, particularly in the most isolated and disadvantaged communities, and the broader planning process, since a sustainable peace depends on the connection of such areas into the wider society.

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Following three decades of experience and expertise at different levels of the planning system – involving local regeneration projects; comprehensive development schemes; area and sub-regional plans, and the Regional Strategy – we would identify a set of problems with the existing planning model that impacts negatively on peace-building, including:

1          It’s tendency in the past to ‘airbrush’ out the relevance of division and segregation to the planning process;

2          It’s limited inclination to recognize openly the difference among ethnic, neutral, shared, and cosmopolitan spaces in a conflict-ridden society;

3          It’s limited capacity to challenge the ‘diseconomies of conflict’ that often sees the duplication of services and amenities within each sectarian bloc;

4          It’s concentration on ‘land use planning’ – a concern about where to zone particular development activity, and focus largely on the physical aspects of infrastructure and development;

5          It’s limited ability to nest local neighbourhood planning and regeneration strategies within the statutory and strategic planning framework to afford such local effort the appropriate authority;

6          the potential for major sectarian blocs to use planning to carve up ‘spheres of influence’, and thereby inhibit the evolution of a more integrated and shared society; and

7          the difficulty encountered in achieving inclusive and participatory forms of plan-making that embrace diverse voices that transcend barriers of gender, age, ethnicity, and disability.

Opportunities for change

Two linked processes of change are just now underway that offer a unique opportunity to address these intractable issues. First, as part of a re-organisation of public administration, a great deal of planning responsibility is to be transferred to a new form of local governance. Second, the form of planning itself may be set to change radically.

Through the introduction of community planning and spatial planning, there is the prospect of an innovative approach that gets beyond ‘land use planning’ to a more comprehensive and holistic model, linking the physical with the social, economic, environmental and cultural aspects of development. Importantly, this new planning approach offers the prospect of seeing more clearly the spatial needs and impact of all other policy sectors, such as health, education, and social services. It also allows for a clearer picture of the spatial needs and impact of Good Relations policies across the whole of governance.

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1. assessing and disseminating the lessons of the introduction of community and spatial planning elsewhere, including in Britain, for a customized model of this new planning in Northern Ireland, and

undertaking research that addresses the issue of Planning Amid Conflict and addressing contested space from a global perspective.

>> Knowledge building

2. engaging with the key stakeholders in the North Belfast area, in order to contribute to learning and unlearning about planning in the region, a process that involves:

(a) building a relationship between local communities, planners and Council officers and members,  working together to improve their mutual capacity

(b) exploring how regeneration functions, and possibly community development, could be better linked with planning as part of an integrated approach to development

>> Mutual learning

3. working in partnership with a cross-community area in North Belfast afflicted with sectarian geography and division to show how collaborative planning across the divide can achieve more sustainable outcomes for all, and how such local planning can be integrated into the wider planning process.

>> Enabling community participation

4. working with the key agencies involved in the ‘transition’ process up to 2014, a process that involves:

(a ) exploring together how a flexible form of community planning, that has a ‘shared future’ as its central focus, could be customized and adopted in each Council area and operated in practice, and

(b) testing these new governance arrangements, and learning the lessons that will help shape the final policy and planning legislation

>> Facilitating institutional change


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Project aims

The overall aim of the project is to help build institutional capacity among the key stakeholders in planning and regeneration to: (a) empower them to address more innovatively and effectively the issues of division and reconciliation relating to the sectarian geographies of a spatially segregated society; and (b) appreciate the potential of new approaches such as spatial and community planning for proactive and civically-inclusive forms of peace-building. 

Specifically, the project aims at a strategic level:

  1. to enhance the capacity of the key stakeholders involved in the transfer of planning  to the new local Councils to understand how innovative and partnership approaches to planning can achieve greater community cohesion, positively engaging diverse communities around issues of conflict, segregation, and cultural difference based on sectarian and ethnic identity.
  2. to demonstrate how the new institutional arrangements can optimize coordinated partnership among planning, regeneration, and community development, thereby addressing more positively the polarization associated with segregated residential patterns – for example, lack of shared space and services; divided housing and labour markets that inhibit development; the prevalence of sectarian emblems that mark territory; and the physical demarcations that characterize interfaces and routes of contentious parades.
  3. to explore how the proposed shift to a new form of ‘spatial’ planning, together with the introduction of community planning at local government level, can be employed to create more integrated, connected, inclusive and sustainable communities, which are foundational to a peaceful shared society.
  4. to promote bottom-up participation in planning and development for a cohesive society, particularly among those disadvantaged communities from both traditions most afflicted by the conflict in terms of: the marginalization and isolation linked to segregation; the dereliction and under-development associated with the legacy of unrest; and on-going sectarian/ racial tension and harassment.
  5. to learn from best practice in multi-ethnic and post-conflict societies in Europe and elsewhere with regard to innovative planning approaches to division and to develop a transnational network of exchange that includes dissemination of effective interventions in Northern Ireland.       

Through all of the above aims, to influence the shaping of new legislation, policy, and related governance structures for the new model planning that has building a shared society as a central feature, and that links local neighbourhood planning and regeneration with the wider strategic planning at area and regional level.


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Outcomes of the project

The overall outcome of the project is a significant contribution to the sustainable development of a peaceful and reconciled society by addressing, through a more integrated and inclusive form of planning, the spatial and social segregations that reinforce ethno-religious and social division. Specifically, the outcomes include:

· mainstream spatial planning policy and practice that addresses spatial division based on sectarian and racial identity as a matter of course.

· significantly upgraded capacity among key stakeholders in the planning process in the Greater Belfast area to address issues of division and good relations, that offers a template to the wider region. Improved capacity should be reflected not only in changes in institutional structure, but also in culture.

· better linkage between local neighbourhood regeneration and wider planning processes that helps connect even the most isolated and disadvantaged areas into the wider society, an issue of citizenship and belonging that is crucial to a stable and peaceful society.

· improved civic leadership at all levels of the development process that prioritises collaborative and partnership approaches to building a shared society as central to the creation of sustainable communities.

· widespread dissemination of examples of appropriately designed shared environments; shared facilities and connected places based on innovative urban design,  offering open and connected urban structures that facilitate and encourage social interactions among all social and ethno-religious groups.

· more recognition by professionals, politicians, and indeed all development stakeholders of the benefits of tackling ethno-nationalist-religious spatial division, and the positive impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of all service-delivery.

· Northern Ireland as an exemplar of good practice in this regard, and such good practice being exported and employed in other segregated societies.


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Contact Information

  • Queen's University Belfast
  • School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering
  • David Keir Building
  • Stranmillis Road
  • BT9 5AG
  • 028 9097 5427

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