Fresh cash for empty coffers? Changing developer obligations in Antwerp, Belgium.


  • Chris den Heijer University of Antwerp
  • Tom Coppens


Financialization, Developer obligations, Value Capture




In response to persistent austerity, local governments are actively exploring innovative financing strategies for public infrastructure investments. Notably, public value capture (PVC) techniques have gained prominence, with a specific focus on developer obligation (DO) policies. Unlike direct approaches targeting property value increases, DOs operate as indirect modes of value capture. DOs traditionally require in-kind or financial compensation for costs incurred by authorities but caused by private development projects (Alterman, 2012). However, in regions such as the UK, the Netherlands, and Flanders, DOs are now utilized to generate new financial revenue streams that are not necessarily linked to mitigating project externalities.

Recent research frames this evolving landscape of value capture tools against the backdrop of financialization processes and neoliberal influences in planning practices. Concerns have been raised, particularly in the Anglosphere, on the financial instrumentalization and calculative shifts of value capture. It is argued that these trends have led planning systems to prioritize inflating property values over preserving socio-spatially integral development, exposing governments to heightened risks (Bloom, 2023, Purcell and Ward, 2022, Catney and Henneberry, 2019).

Limited research has examined the longitudinal evolution of DOs within the context of financialization processes, especially at the local level. Our contribution therefore focuses on the "Urban Development Cost" (UDC) introduced in 2016 in Antwerp, Belgium. The UDC, a local policy guideline, aimed to optimize DO approaches to augment the private sector’s contributions to public space. Framing the UDC within financialization processes, our article seeks to contribute to two questions: Why do local governments adopt modified DO policies? And how do these changes affect planning and development practices?

Drawing on policy documentation and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, the analysis reveals that the UDC emerged opportunistically to fulfil financial and political-ideological agendas. Seizing a legal vacuum in DO legislation at the regional level, the UDC emerged as a preferred tool to address budget deficits. Politically and ideologically, the choice for the UDC was motivated by the city government's reluctance to increase general taxes, the potential to generate discretionary revenues, the possibility of exploiting loopholes in regional DO legislation, and finally, the opportunity to avoid democratic control. Respondents raise concern over the UDC, citing the political haggling over UDC funds, diminished democratic control, depoliticization of fund allocation, power imbalances in negotiations with developers, and limited transparency.

Through these results, we argue that the financialization of value capture techniques extends to the local level, and that it involves more than just repurposing value capture techniques and subjecting them to calculative practices. Financialization, in the UDC case, also carries a political dimension, with local actors seeking to consolidate discretionary power through a “politics of earmarking” (Pacewicz, 2016). We caution against the by-products of such practices, including diminished democratic quality, allocative inequity, and questionable legitimacy. Our article calls for further research into how internal dynamics within local governments contribute to financialization processes of value capture and their implications for legitimacy.


ALTERMAN, R. 2012. Land-Use Regulations and Property Values: The “Windfalls Capture” Idea Revisited. In: BROOKS, N., DONANGHY, K. & KNAPP, G.-J. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook on Urban Economics and Planning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

BLOOM, A. 2023. Public land, value capture, and the rise of speculative urban governance in post-crisis London. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 0, 0308518X231199701.

CATNEY, P. & HENNEBERRY, J. 2019. Change in the Political Economy of Land Value Capture in England. Town Planning Review, 90, 339-358.

PACEWICZ, J. 2016. The City as a Fiscal Derivative: Financialization, Urban Development, and the Politics of Earmarking. City & Community, 15, 264-288.

PURCELL, T. F. & WARD, C. 2022. The political economy of land value capture in the UK: Rent and viability in Salford’s new municipalist turn. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 0, 0308518X221131322.