Belfast Telegraph

Shake-up of Belfast planning system in bid to improve speed and efficiency

By John Mulgrew

Sweeping changes to Belfast's planning system loom after complaints to council bosses led to a high-level review.

In October the Belfast Telegraph revealed Scotland's former chief planner Jim Mackinnon was being parachuted in to carry out a review of planning at City Hall.

Now Belfast City Council is bringing in a new charter that it hopes will improve the process and alleviate the concerns of some developers.

It is also to appoint a new overall director of planning and building control.

Mr Mackinnon will continue to act in an advisory capacity.

In October it was revealed that the council had been failing to meet statutory targets for planning decisions, with major applications taking an average of 125 weeks to decide on - more than four times the 30-week target.

Improvements are aimed at ensuring "customers have the right information in support of an application before submitting it", requirements are "fully understood and needs are met", and a pre-application discussion (PAD), which is currently paid for by developers, is "provided to identify issues at the beginning of the process and before the application is made".

It is also envisaged that processing times will be speeded up overall by informing developers of timescales, and outlining and informing developers if their applications are unacceptable "as quickly as possible".

The council said the changes "will be supported by a series of internal measures to implement a more focused service improvement plan that will see the introduction of staff training and development programmes, a closer integration of the work of planning and building control, improved operation of the development management process, including the appointment of a dedicated road engineer and increasing the number of officers authorised to sign reports, among other initiatives".

The work will be taken forward by the council's planning committee and the new director of planning and building control, which is "currently going through the appointment process as part of a wider organisational change plan".

Planning committee chairman Donal Lyons of the SDLP said: "New recommendations will be introduced, as well as a customer charter with 10 operating principles to reduce backlogs in the planning application system, speed up transactions and ensure the service is faster, better and more engaging. It will also help support the delivery of council's 20-year strategy, the Belfast Agenda.

"As Belfast continues to experience an unprecedented level of growth, the measures have been designed to improve the quality and speed of the process in a way which balances the benefits to householders, private industry and the wider community.

"For households, we would expect to see a significant improvement in the efficiency with which applications are dealt with, while the development industry will have greater certainty on outcomes."

Belfast Telegraph

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