Tue 26th Aug 2014
Aug 14: Best chance in many years to get NI planning system right
The NI Executive sometimes attracts criticism for a lack of movement on the big issues which can clog up the system at Stormont. Some such criticism may be warranted and when that is the case it is legitimate to flag that up and encourage politicians to work together to overcome obstacles to progress.
Equally, when progress is made we should acknowledge that fact. In March 2015 when the 11 new ‘Super Councils’ take over from the outgoing 26 council model, then a major milestone in the review and the delivery of public administration will have been achieved.
There may be conflicting views about the final model of local Government delivery but a move from 26 to 11 bodies and the associated devolution of meaningful and significant powers is to be welcomed.
One of the major changes which will take effect next year is the transfer of planning powers to the new Councils. NI Chamber has been engaged with the Department of the Environment (DoE) on this important issue and we have relayed our collective views on what we see as the important elements of the proposal.
We want to be sure that there is a meaningful and coordinated relationship between the regional planning policy and that adopted and rolled out by the local Councils. Rather than Councils simply having to ‘take account of’ higher regional policy, we think there should be an onus on them to remain consistent and comply with Northern Ireland wide planning strategy. It is also important that when reviewing the delivery of new development plans, the whole plan comes into focus rather than the emphasis being put mainly on housing and supply of land for economic development as seems to be the focus under the current plans.
Consistency of delivery when it comes to planning is important to our members. We would not wish to see 11 models of planning delivery being created and there will be times when it is appropriate for the DoE to set out specific guidelines around, for example, pre- determination hearings; the alternative is 11 variations on what will be an important element of the planning system.
We welcome the proposed introduction of a 21 day time limit for consultees to respond to a consultation request. This will help to streamline the planning process, something which the business community has sought for several years. It is not clear that failure to respond within that timeframe will lead to a sanction, something we believe is necessary to ensure compliance.
There is much within the proposed changes to the planning system to be welcomed, including the political reality that changes are definitely coming. This period that we are in now represents the best chance in many years for us to get planning right.
We are committed to working with the Department, as we will with the new Councils, to ensure that Northern Ireland plc has a system which supports and facilitates a balanced approach to planning which can help drive long term sustainable economic growth.