24th March 2023: 12.30pm

Meaningful Citizen Engagement in Local Planning
Planning is a crucial function of local democracy and it is important that planning decisions reflect the best interests of current residents and future generations.

Part of:

Democracy Day 2023

When local planning processes meaningfully engage the community to consider their wants, needs, and perspectives, local governments can better focus on local priorities, ensuring needs are met and build a sense of shared ownership of local assets.

Yet, a recent report, ‘Open Local Government – Community Engagement in Local Planning in Northern Ireland’, shone a spotlight on Northern Ireland’s planning system and found it to not only lack meaningful transparency but also one that merely pays lip service to community engagement.

This panel will bring together experts in local open government, community engagement, and planning to discuss the findings of this report. Together they will critically discuss the systemic problems of the planning system in Northern Ireland and address practical steps that must be taken for reform to ensure that there is space for local communities to meaningfully engage and be heard.

Chairs: Rebekah McCabe – Chair NIOGN and Paul Braithwaite – Board Member NIOGN

Speakers: Andy McDevitt – Independent Researcher, Brian Cleland – Chair Newry 2020, Jennifer Young – Joint Lead of Maghera Park Action Group, James Hennessy – Director at The Paul Hogarth Company Limited and Louise O’Kane – Chief Executive of Community Places.

The report, written by independent researcher Andy McDevitt, was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Open Government Network under the project ‘Open Local Government – Creating Local Action Hubs’, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund.

The Northern Ireland Open Government Network (NIOGN), established in 2014, is an alliance of individual citizens, activists and representatives of community and voluntary organisations. Our aim is to contribute to delivering more open, transparent and accountable government that empowers citizens to shape decisions that impact on their lives.

Andy McDevitt is an independent consultant with more than 15 years global research and policy experience in the field of open government and anti-corruption. He focuses on supporting reforms to increase government accountability and help ensure citizens have a stronger voice in the day-to-day running of their communities. He has worked with a range of organisations including Transparency International (TI), Open Government Partnership (OGP), Open Society Foundations (OSF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), among others.

Brian Cleland is a co-founder and Chair of Newry 2020 since 2014. Newry 2020 is a voluntary organisation working to make Newry a more attractive and exciting place for both residents and visitors, and to help the city achieve its full potential. The organisation has led a number of important regeneration projects since its inception, including the annual Iur Cinn Fleadh music festival and the successful campaign for a new city park on the Albert Basin. Brian has a long-standing interest in transparency, democratic participation and community organising and is a former member of the board of Open Government NI.

Jennifer Young is an Education & Businessperson and also the Joint lead of the Maghera Park Action Group. With this group, she is campaigning to reimagine the former High School grounds in Maghera as mature, quality green-space for our community by opposing Mid Ulster District Council’s (well developed) plans to industrialise and profiteer from their purchase of the site. She states that “The NI Planning System is an inappropriate forum for community consultation where the statutory planning authority is also the developer.”

James Hennessey is a Chartered Landscape Architect, Urban Designer and Director of award winning practice, The Paul Hogarth Company. He has been based in Belfast since 2000 and plays a lead role on strategic projects across the island of Ireland and his native Scotland, including masterplans, public realm strategies and regeneration frameworks. James often works in the capacity of lead consultant of a multidisciplinary team and enjoys facilitating collaborative engagement processes with the public and other stakeholders. James is also active in policy guidance and research, both with the Ministerial Advisory Group for Architecture and the Built Environment and Queen’s University Belfast, where he is a guest tutor and PhD candidate.

Dr Louise O’Kane (BSc. MSc. PhD MRTPI) is the Chief Executive of Community Places. Louise has over sixteen years’ experience of working in the areas of spatial planning and regeneration, community engagement and community planning. Louise joined Community Places as a Planner in 2008. Louise has a PhD in Planning, Urban Governance and Contested Space, and is a Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. Louise is a Director of the Scottish Community Development Centre; an Advisory Group member of UPLAN Ulster University’s Planning Regeneration and Development Course; a member of the MAG Strategic Design Group and Co-Chair of the Planning Engagement Partnership. Louise has led the development and testing of a wide range of innovative planning and engagement techniques with communities and young people including two Erasmus+ European Projects on Community Participation in Planning and Youth Participatory Budgeting (PB). Over the last five years Louise has led and co-ordinated the Participatory Budgeting Works project, a collaborative initiative to raise awareness of and create an enabling environment for PB. This has included the development of a PB Charter to guide quality PB processes. Louise has provided tailored support to several partnership led PB processes across the region.

Learn more:  opengovernment.org.uk Twitter  

date & time

date & time

Fri. 24th March
Duration: 1.5 hours







book tickets

Tickets for this event can be booked below, or on the event’s Eventbrite page.

event partner

Image: Brandi Alexandra/Unsplash