NI Chamber publishes proposals to reform the planning system

10th Jan 2024

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) has published its recommendations for the reform of the region’s planning system, which it says could accelerate Northern Ireland’s progress towards net zero, facilitate economic growth and deliver much needed affordable housing.

The plans include a far-reaching combination of system improvements, legislative and regulatory changes and proposals which would ensure that in future, the planning system is held to account for its performance.

Among the recommendations is an overall focus on ensuring that the entire system is properly resourced, from the Department of Infrastructure to Councils, Statutory Consultees and the Planning Appeals Commission. The report also proposes that planning authorities should be enabled to deem consent if statutory consultees do not respond within the deadlines set, and that performance of statutory consultees and planning authorities should be more effectively incentivised and controlled.

It suggests that the Department of Infrastructure uses its existing legislative powers to appoint independent commissioners to address some specific requirements, including the independent examination of Local Development Plans. And whilst retaining its independence from any Government Department, it is proposed that the role, approach and resourcing of the Planning Appeals Commission should be reviewed by the NI Audit Office.

Commenting on the report, Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive, NI Chamber said:

“A well performing planning function is key to instilling confidence in the market for potential investors and to enable the development of the required infrastructure, when it comes to connectivity, services, energy and reducing our carbon emissions. It is also vital for local businesses, many of whom are eagerly waiting to invest, subject to the planning process which regrettably, has been holding too many of them back. If our planning system is to deliver for them and for our planet, we really need to take action now.

“Reform of the existing system presents an opportunity to enable significant economic growth; particularly in renewable generation with ambitious 2030 climate action targets fast approaching. Most economic development begins with planning, so getting the foundation stone right is crucial. Our proposals represent a very considered, strategic approach and if implemented early by a new Executive, could deliver real economic impact.”

The report was developed in partnership with independent advisors, Turley. Speaking about the proposals Philip Stinson, Director, Turley said:

“We are pleased to support NI Chamber in bringing forward recommendations for reforming the Northern Ireland planning system. We know the critical nature of planning for enabling development and the confidence that certainty in planning performance can bring for potential investment in the region. It is also vitally important to achieving renewable energy targets. The recommendations follow our review of the key functions of the planning system and focus on delivering a number of improvements that can be readily implemented in the short term to enhance the planning system now.”

The ‘Planning and Improvement and Reform Position Paper’ is available to read in full here.