Belfast Telegraph

Durkan launches planning reform consultation

Stormont Executive press release - Department of the Environment

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan today launched a 12 week consultation on proposals for planning reform and its transfer to new councils.

The Minister is seeking views on the improvements he intends to introduce in planning as a result of the new two-tier system in Northern Ireland. 

Under the review of public administration (RPA), responsibility for the majority of planning functions will transfer to the new councils in April 2015 who will operate as the local planning authorities for their areas.

The changes will see the return of local accountability to the planning system. Councils will be responsible for developing their own local development plan setting the context for development proposals in the future. They will also determine the vast majority of planning applications with only a small percentage of regionally significant applications being decided by the Department of the Environment. Councils will also take the lead on all enforcement activity where there have been alleged breaches of planning control. 

Mark H Durkan said: “The proposals I am putting forward for public consultation will deliver a planning system that is faster, fairer and fit for purpose and which will support the economic and social development of the North. It puts the majority of planning functions back where they belong, at local level, with local accountability, through our new 11 district councils.

“This is an exciting time for planning and I recognise the challenges that the new reformed two-tier planning system will present to key stakeholders. Councils will be in the driving seat in drawing up a development plan for their area which reflects agreed local priorities. This work of engagement and debate will set the backdrop for development proposals and provides a great opportunity to set out the hopes and aspirations for the newly established councils.

“While my proposals lay the foundations for this longer-term place-shaping, they will also deliver immediate benefits when powers transfer to councils. They will support faster decision making which is great news for business and the economy as well as more effective enforcement as soon as councils take up the reins in April 2015. The system will also be transparent and managed within a strong system of governance and ethical requirements. I believe this will satisfy the very reasonable expectations of the public and provide strong support to councillors taking on these new responsibilities.

“When set alongside the development of a single Strategic Planning Policy Statement I am redefining the planning landscape so that the system delivers for all. My vision is for a better environment and a stronger economy and these proposals will help achieve that.”

The changes will improve access to, and increase participation in, the planning process as well as deliver faster and more predictable outcomes for applicants. They will also support fairer and faster appeals as well as stronger and more effective enforcement.

The proposals also provide the detailed mechanisms to support the operation of the new two-tier model of planning which is the norm in other jurisdictions.

For more details please visit 

Notes to editors:

1. The 12 week public consultation runs from 28 May 2014 until 20 August 2014. Proposals are intended to further implement the provisions of the Planning Act (NI) 2011 introducing reforms to the planning system and transferring responsibility for the majority of planning functions to the new district councils in April 2015. The new 11 councils will be responsible for drawing up their own development plans, shaping how their areas will grow and develop, as well as making the vast majority of planning decisions.

2. The key phase 1 proposals relate to the following elements of the planning process:
· local development plans;
· statements of community involvement;
· the new three-tier hierarchy of development applications i.e. local, major and regionally significant;
· the new and revised procedures for managing applications through the system;
· listed buildings; and
· the management of applications relating to land of interested parties e.g. council-owned land.

3. The Department is consulting on a phased basis to better manage the broad range of necessary legislation to fully implement the provisions of the Planning Act (NI) 2011. This phase 1 consultation addresses all the issues necessary for the system to function under the new two-tier arrangements with local councils operating as the local planning authorities from 1st April 2015. Further additional provisions will be the subject of a Phase 2 consultation in the Autumn 2014.

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