chapter  5
30 Pages

Building consensus in contested spaces and places? The Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland


In September 2001 the Northern Ireland Assembly approved the content of the Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025, more popularly known as Shaping Our Future. This brought to an end the formulation stage of a strategic planning process that had commenced in 1997. Around that time the signs for a ‘new start’ in Northern Ireland were becoming very apparent following the paramilitary ceasefires in 1994, the participation of civil society in new area-based peace and reconciliation partnerships from 1995, and the signing of the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ in 1998. Strategic planning in this context, it could be argued, was charged with contributing to a negotiated consensus on emergent spatial relationships within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland, across the Irish Sea to Great Britain and beyond. Not surprisingly, these axes of endeavour reflect the political complexities of a deeply divided society with longstanding contested regional allegiances and identities. Linked with this overarching set of realities, the strategic planning process had to deal with issues of housing growth and distribution, economic development, environmental sustainability, the urban versus the rural, and spatial equity. In this regard, a case study constructed around the Northern Ireland regional development strategy offers some particularly interesting insights into the post-modern and positivist interpretations of contemporary spatial planning as outlined in Chapter 1.