Bronte, John

The neoliberalisation and post-politicisation of planning for the public interest? Insights from contemporary waterfront redevelopment in Belfast and Dublin





School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering
Queen's University Belfast
Level 3
David Keir Building
Stranmillis Road
Belfast BT9 5AG
Northern Ireland



+44 (0)2890 974254


Current Research:

The neoliberalisation and post-politicisation of planning for the public interest? Insights from contemporary waterfront redevelopment in Belfast and Dublin

This research examines the theme of the ‘public interest’ in planning, using the urban waterfront as an area of investigation. The concept of the public interest has long been a defining element of urban planning. Since the middle of the last century planning has been the primary arena in which competing land uses are played out, striving to achieve reconciliation often between competing objectives and aspirations. One of the consequent roles of planning is therefore to acknowledge and address some of the power inequalities in society to ensure that a general ‘public interest’ is taken into account. The claim to be acting in the public interest has thus been based on an emphasis on ensuring the rationality of analysis and decision making. Yet planning is contained within and constrained by economic and forecast priorities on a wider stage. Namely the impact of neoliberalism and turn to new forms of urban governance based on competitiveness, entrepreneurialism, privatisation and partnership have had profound implications for the spatial planning agenda. Consequently there is a need to ascertain whether such a discourse with its inherently uneven and contradictory properties has translated a change in conceptualising and applying the public interest through planning intervention.

Urban waterfronts and their increasing integration with the neoliberal competitive city paradigm provide an area of study upon which to examine the concept of planning for the public interest. The new urban waterfront is seen as a transformative space, a world-class cityscape and a strategic site for economic growth, entrepreneurial governance and policy, private-sector partnerships, flagship projects, aggressive marketing and consumption orientated spectacle. However, while the urban waterfront has become a cultural and economic flagship of regeneration practice and a landscape of global, national and local significance, the role of planning in this process needs to be addressed. Specifically, a central question must be of how the ‘public interest’ has been enacted through planning processes on the waterfront. Using case studies of waterfront redevelopment in Belfast and Dublin the aim of this study is to examine whether contemporary urban planning is upholding and enacting its underpinning principle of controlling and regulating development in the public interest.

Supervisors: Dr. Philip Boland & Dr. Jenny Muir


MSc with Distinction in Spatial Regeneration, Queen’s University Belfast, 2012
BSc with First Class Honours in Environmental Planning, Queen’s University Belfast, 2011

Conferences / Presentations:

AESOP - ACSP Joint Congress, Dublin, July 2013: ‘The Competitive Waterfront in the Neoliberal City: Who Benefits?’  (with Dr. Jenny Muir and Dr. Philip Boland, QUB)
AESOP Annual Congress, Utrecht/Delft July 2014
Queen’s University Belfast Institute of Spatial and Environmental Planning PGR Conference, March 2015: ‘The Competitive Waterfront: Planning in the Public Interest?
47th Conference of Irish Geographers, Belfast, May 2015: ‘Planning, Public Interest and the Belfast Waterfront’
Joint York University / National University of Ireland Maynooth Summer School, Reinventing Ireland After the Crash. Maynooth, June/July 2015


The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Prize for Best Overall Postgraduate Student, MSc Spatial Regeneration, 2012
The Department of the Environment Planning Prize for Best Overall Undergraduate Student, BSc Environmental Planning, 2011
The Carson McDowell Award for Best Law Student, BSc Environmental Planning, 2011
The Carvill Award for Best Economics Student, BSc Environmental Planning, 2010
The Planning Prize for Best Stage 1 Student, BSc Environmental Planning, 2009


EVP 2009: Planning and Sustainable Development
EVP 3012: Comparative Planning Studies
EVP 3014: Themes in Spatial Planning
EVP 3018: Themes in European Planning
EVP 7016: Property Development
EVP 7023: Approaches to Property Development


PhD Postgraduate Research Studentship, Department of Education and Learning, 2013

Work Experience:

Research Assistant on ‘The new waterfront: who benefits?’ project [RICS Education Trust funded] with Dr. Jenny Muir, Dr. Philip Boland and Dr. Martina McKnight.