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Improvements made in planning application processing times 

The Northern Ireland Planning Development Management Statistics - 2012/13 Annual Statistical Bulletin, published today, reveals improvements in performance across all of the main categories of planning application.

Over the most recent year, the average processing times for Major, Intermediate and Minor categories of planning application reduced by 4, 2 and 3 weeks respectively compared to 2011/12. In addition, the first year Programme for Government target to process 60% of Large Scale Investment Applications within 6 months was also met with 72% of all such applications being processed within this timescale. Departmental targets were also met for processing Intermediate and Minor applications but, despite the improved performance recorded for Major applications, the average processing time at 27 weeks was still 4 weeks in excess of their 23 week target. 

These performance levels were achieved against a backdrop of further falls in application numbers with an 11% reduction in applications received last year compared to 2011/12, partly reflecting the depressed economic climate. It is notable that the less than 12 thousand applications received in 2012/13 represents only around one-third of the peak volume of around 36 thousand received in 2004/05. 

The overall approval rate for decisions has remained the same as last year (93%). 

The key points to note in the bulletin are:

1. Applications received

· In 2012/13, DOE Planning received 11,943 planning applications. This is a decrease of 11% compared with 2011/12, and is around one-third of the peak volume of 35,453 recorded in 2004/05.
· Applications for full planning permission make up 78% of applications received and have dropped from 10,661 full applications in 2011/12 to 9,283 in 2012/13 (down by 13%). Applications for residential development have also continued to fall, down by almost one fifth (18%) from 7,610 in 2011/12 to 6,278 in 2012/13.

2. Applications decided

· DOE Planning issued decisions on 13,205 applications in 2012/13, down by 7% on the 14,208 decided in 2011/12, and 55% below the peak volume of 29,419 decisions issued in 2005/06.
· The number of decisions issued for full planning permission was 10,353. This makes up over three quarters (78%) of planning applications against which a decision was issued.

3. Applications approved

· Overall, 93% of decisions issued for planning applications 2012/13 were approved, the same as last year. 

4. Applications received for residential development

· The majority of applications received by the Department are still for residential development (6,278), accounting for over half (53%) of all applications received in 2012/13.
· The number of residential applications received for urban and rural areas both fell for 2012/13 (17% and 18%, respectively). Rural applications made up three fifths (60%) of all residential applications.

5. Applications decided for residential development

· In urban areas, the number of decisions fell by 18%, from 3,525 to 2,894; compared with rural areas where the number of decisions fell by 20% from 5,409 to 4,317. 

6. Renewable energy applications

· Renewable energy applications include wind turbines, wind farms, solar panels, biomass burners, hydroelectric schemes etc. Just over three quarters (76%) of renewable energy applications received in 2012/13 were for single wind turbines (606 out of 801 renewable energy applications).
· The number of decisions issued against renewable energy applications increased by a very significant 90%, from 401 in 2011/12 to 762 in 2012/13. Almost nine in ten (89%) of renewable energy applications were approved. 

7. Enforcement Statistics

· In 2012/13, there were 2,768 enforcement cases opened and 3,335 enforcement cases closed, representing activity increases of 8% and 14% respectively on last year.
· The main reason for an enforcement case being closed was because, following investigation, it was deemed that no breach had actually occurred (1,030, or 31% of closed cases).

8. Results for Key Performance Targets

· DOE Planning have a key commitment under the Programme for Government to ensure that 90% of large scale investment (LSI) planning decisions are made within 6 months and applications with job creation potential are given additional weight. However, this target is to be phased in over a 3 year period with 60% representing the interim target for 2012/13. During 2012/13, there were 25 LSI applications where a decision was either reached, or it was possible for a decision to have been reached, within the 6 month processing target. Of these, 18, or 72%, were processed within 6 months; meaning that the 2012/13 PfG target of 60% has been met.
· There are three separate annual targets depending on application type. These have been revised for this year. The annual processing target for Major planning applications (predominantly housing developments, commercial and retail development) is to process to decision or withdrawal in an average of 23 weeks. In 2012/13, the average processing time for major applications was 27 weeks, lower than the 31 weeks achieved in 2011/12. 
· The annual processing target for Intermediate planning applications (predominantly single houses) is to process to decision or withdrawal in an average of 20 weeks. In 2012/13, the average processing time for intermediate applications was 19 weeks compared with 21 weeks in 2011/12. 
· The annual processing target for Minor planning applications (predominantly alterations and extensions to houses) is to process to decision or withdrawal in an average of 14 weeks. In 2012/13, the average processing time for minor applications was 12 weeks compared with 15 weeks in 2011/12.

Results for operational targets

· There are two annual targets for the validation of a planning application. The first is to validate 85% of applications within 6 days and the second is to validate 95% of applications within 10 days. In 2012/13, 94% of planning applications were validated within 6 days and 98% were validated within 10 days.
· There are a further two annual targets for the time taken to issue a decision after last Council consultation. The first is to issue 85% of decisions within 2 weeks and the second is to issue 95% of decisions within 4 weeks. In 2012/13, 86% of decisions were issued within 2 weeks of last Council consultation and 93% were issued within 4 weeks of last Council consultation.
· There are two key annual targets for enforcement activity. The first is for 95% of high priority cases to be discussed and certified within 2 working weeks. In 2012/13, 61% of high priority cases were discussed and certified within 2 weeks. The second is to process to a conclusion 70% of enforcement cases within 39 weeks. In 2012/13 67% of enforcement cases were brought to a conclusion within this time period.

Notes to editors:

1. This is the latest in a series of Annual Development Management Statistics Bulletins. 

2. There are ten performance targets covered in the report, covering Planning performance in relation to the processing of planning applications and enforcement activity. A number of new targets were introduced for the 2012/13 year. Note that the definition of large scale investment applications has been reviewed and has now been extended to include not only headquarters applications but all such applications also received in local offices and identified as such by planning staff. 

3. A new table (Table 8) was added to the publication in quarter 2. This provides detail of enforcement activity for the period and is in response to an identified user need.

4. Following a review of the type of application which should be reported on for the purposes of this report, Certificates of Lawful Use or Development (CLUDs), either proposed or existing, are no longer included. This is because applications for such certificates are not actual planning applications. They have also been removed from last year’s figures to preserve comparability.

5. Planning is organised into 5 area offices and a Headquarters, details of which are available in appendix 4 of the bulletin.

6. The records of all applications from 1st April 2012 to 31st March 2013 were transferred in May 2013 from a live database and inspected for consistency in coding before figures were finalised for publication. These finalised annual figures supersede the provisional quarterly figures issued in-year.

7. Electronic copies of the ‘Planning Service Development Management Statistical Bulletin’ are available at 

Belfast Telegraph