New planning system agreed
A new system for considering planning applications was agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, just before it was dissolved for May’s elections.
Under the new legislation, district councils will decide planning applications in place of the Planning Service. The timetable for the implementation of the new system will be decided by the next Assembly.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots said: “The [Planning] Bill means that in the future the bulk of planning decisions will be made by locally elected representatives who are best placed to understand their own community’s needs. Councils will also be responsible for preparing new local development plans which will set out the vision for how their area should develop.
“This Bill also revitalises and streamlines the planning system. It allows for better, faster development management and enforcement functions and an improved and more focused local development plan process. This placing of power in councils puts planning at the heart of local communities and is fundamental to achieving a more democratically accountable planning system. Communities will be consulted throughout the planning process.”
Under the new structures, there will be earlier community engagement in the planning process and more widespread consultation with local communities. The Department of the Environment said this would create “a more open and transparent process with better outcomes for all”.
The Northern Ireland Local Government Association welcomed the new legislation.
Planning fees will also be reformed, with fees charged on a more proportionate basis to the scale of a proposed development. The new fee structure comes into effect on April 11.