School of Natural and Built Environment

Planning, Politics and the Public Interest: A UK, Ireland and European Perspective

Research Theme: Cities, Communities and Contested Urbanism
Supervisors: Dr Phil Boland ( and Dr. Linda Fox-Rogers (

Public interest is a hugely important, but also problematic, concept for planning theory and practice. However, recent work has sought to ground the more theoretical debates in the reality of the ‘politics of distribution’ associated with major planning interventions in cityspace, and the impacts of neoliberal urbanism (Boland et al., 2017; Murphy and Fox-Rogers, 2015). This project seeks to further develop these debates. The aim of this PhD project is to unpack, analyse and problematise the different approaches to public interest across the UK, Ireland and Europe. This will involve excavating the context and rationale for different approaches in different political jurisdictions and spatial contexts. Focusing on a small number of key cities allows the researcher to focus in particular on the ‘politics of distribution’ associated with public interest, to examine and explain how this is played out geographically, and what lessons different cities can learn from each other. The ultimate aim of the research is to generate more democratic, inclusive and just notions of public interest that are genuinely rooted in the multiple publics that exist in the contemporary city. The project will focus on major cities in the UK, Ireland and continental Europe, and is framed around key research questions: How is public interest understood and operationalised in different political and planning jurisdictions? What is the variable impact of neoliberal urbanism on public interest in different spatial contexts? What lessons can different cities learn from each other to improve notions of public interest? In what ways can a more democratic and inclusive notion of public interest lead to ‘better planning’?

The research design for this project would involve qualitative techniques, such as semi-structured interviews with key elite stakeholders; focus groups with a range of community, voluntary and environmental groups; site visits; policy analysis and secondary sources. In essence, the methodology is predicated on teasing out how definitions of public interest are mobilised, for what ends and for whose benefit in different spatial, political and planning contexts. This research project will make a significant contribution to contemporary theoretical debates and empirical studies of public interest by offering a more nuanced understanding of this heavily problematized term. We also see societal impacts emerging as the project will enable more marginal groups in society to have an input into how public benefit is constructed, authenticated and mobilised. This will help ensure greater benefits and more just outcomes are derived locally. The project will also facilitate a more effective and democratic policy approach to public interest that is more firmly rooted in ideas of social justice.

How to Apply