A consultation paper issued in early February proposes that planning permission will be needed to demolish any building greater than 115 cubic metres, which could have serious implications for Northern Ireland's already beleaguered building trade.
Developers with existing buildings on sites for which planning permission has already been granted, or those who wish to limit their business rates on derelict buildings, could be impacted.
We have clients, many who thought they had all the relevant permission to go ahead with a development, who now fear they may face a costly and time-consuming process of obtaining demolition consent, with no guarantee that it will be granted before the original planning consent expires. And any savings on business rates could be overtaken by fees and professional costs.
The industry is asking the Assembly to 'fast track' applications where planning permission for development has already been granted, as well as to reduce the planning fee for new applications.
Currently only listed buildings and historic monuments or buildings falling within designated areas of townscape character (ATCs) or conservation areas (CAs) require demolition consent. Until now, demolition of other buildings has not required planning permission.
It is not clear what the cost implications are and whether developers will be required to prepare complex environmental statements to accompany their applications. Nor do the proposals appear to allow for those sites which already have planning permission to be exempt from the requirements. And there is no provision for such sites to be 'fast tracked' through the planning process.
The proposals also raise questions for lenders, who may find the value of their security is reduced if their sites are no longer capable of development until this consent is obtained.
In the current economic climate landowners (and their lenders) may be forced to invest further in demolishing existing buildings to ensure existing planning permission can be implemented, or run the risk that they will be unable to secure consent for demolition at a future date. The consultation is due to close on April 6.
Maria O'Loan is a director in the planning and environment department at Belfast law firm, Cleaver Fulton Rankin