Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council planning shake-up 'to improve quality and speed' of applications


Advice: Jim Mackinnon
Advice: Jim Mackinnon

By John Mulgrew

Belfast City Council's planning chief has left his top post as it is understood he was nearing the end of his contract.

It's understood Phil Williams is no longer in his role as Director of Planning and Place - a job which he has held since joining the council in 2015.

A senior planning manager is taking the lead on a temporary basis while recruitment for a new role is under way.

And Belfast City Council has confirmed it is "to reform its planning service" after bringing in Scotland's ex-chief planner Jim Mackinnon, to investigate and carry out a high-level review of the entire planning system, following complaints to council bosses.

That includes recruiting for a number of senior roles, and a new Director for Planning and Building Control. And Mr Mackinnon is also continuing to work with the council in "an expert advisory capacity to help move the service forward".

A Belfast City Council spokesman said it is introducing measures to improve the quality and speed of the application process.

"Belfast City Council can confirm it is to reform its planning service with a renewed focus on customer relations following recommendations contained in a report it commissioned by Scotland's former Chief Planner, Jim Mackinnon CBE," the spokesman said.

"As Belfast continues to experience an unprecedented level of growth, the new measures have been designed to improve the quality and speed of the application process.

"It is too early to release details as the draft recommendations have yet to be shared with elected members but will be shared in due course.

"As part of a longer term corporate change plan, Belfast City Council is currently recruiting for a number of appointments to its new senior management team including a Director for Planning and Building Control.

"That process has been under way for some time. Mr Mackinnon continues to act in an expert advisory capacity to help move the service forward.

"It has been confirmed that Keith Sutherland, a senior planning manager with the department is going to take a lead role in planning on an interim basis until the new director role is in place."

Last month it was revealed Belfast City Council is shaking up its planning department in a bid to tackle long-running delays for major developments across the city.

The council is failing to meet "statutory targets" for planning application decisions, with major applications taking an average of 125 weeks to decide on - more than four times the 30-week target.

The details of the revamp were included in a briefing to members of the council's planning committee.

It said that "measures have been put in place to both significantly reduce the number of long-standing applications in the system".

Belfast Telegraph