Belfast Telegraph

Mixed response to planning reforms

Half of those who used Northern Ireland's planning system feel the service became worse during the last year.

A poor telephone system and an increase in the time taken to deal with applications were among the major concerns. There were also complaints about a lack of availability of planners.

However, the 2010 customer service survey report into the Planning Service revealed the level of customer satisfaction with the overall service had nearly doubled to 63% from a low of 32% in a similar survey in 2008.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots said: "At last our customers are now benefiting from the reforms my Department has implemented over the last two years.

"Planning Service has made good progress with its processing targets over the last 18 months, and exceeded them in certain areas. Furthermore the quality of advice and response to customer requirements has dramatically improved."

According to the survey, 50% felt the service was worse than last year while 22% felt it was better.

Among those dissatisfied, 19 comments were made about the telephone system and 14 said applications were dealt with at a slower rate. A total of 10 comments surrounded the perceived lack of availability of planners and six found staff unhelpful.

The minister commended Planning Service staff for excellent work, highlighting their commitment and professionalism, saying: "These service improvements are only the beginning as my department takes steps to bring about further reforms," he said.

A draft planning Bill has been agreed by the Executive and was introduced to the Assembly on December 6 this year. The Bill will provide for the transfer of the majority of planning functions from central government to district councils within a timetable to be agreed by the Executive.

Independent assessors were being considered for area plans and major planning applications.

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