Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Planning rules relaxed for small firms

New planning rules will allow many small shop and office owners to build extensions without having to apply for planning permission.

This was one of a series of measures announced yesterday by Environment Minister Alex Attwood in order to speed up the planning process and cut costs for applicants. He said the changes will also mean a reduction in the documentation needed to complete a planning application, meaning less expense.

The minister also promised better control over demolition in cases where works are likely to have significant impacts on the environment.

Planning Service has come under fire in recent months, accused of maladministration and failures to meet targets.

Earlier this year, it was ordered to pay £30,000 in compensation after delays in enforcing planning regulations at a Co Tyrone goldmine.

And this week Mr Attwood said Planning Service’s failure to meet its targets had to be rectified.

Responding to a Written Assembly Question by DUP MLA Brenda Hale, he blamed redeployment of staff, the rollout of the Planning Portal – a website hosting planning application details – the re-assessment of 2,500 PPS21 applications and efforts to clear the planning backlog for the fall in performance. PPS21 is a recently introduced policy for limiting development in the countryside and a number of applications were deferred while it was under consideration.

“I have set challenging targets for this year and the next two years in order to speed up the planning process and assist economic recovery. I require planning staff to meet these new targets and have made this clear to senior staff in the department,” Mr Attwood said.

Last night, Mr Attwood said the improvements he had |announced were the first in a range of forthcoming measures aimed at improving planning |and helping in the downturn.

“Increasing the range of development that no longer needs planning permission will make it easier for owners of shops and offices to undertake minor building works such as small extensions to their property,” he said.

The minister also introduced new planning controls and guidance on demolition of buildings which have a significant impact on the environment..

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