Planning Portal

Nesbitt Gets Tough On Planning Breaches

Published on Mon, 24 Jun 2002
Environment Minister Mr Dermot Nesbitt today outlined tough new legislation for those who flaunt planning laws. Prison sentences are being proposed for the first time.
The Minister highlighted his intent during the first Assembly debate on the Planning (Amendment) Bill 2002.
Mr Nesbitt said: "On devolution, we inherited a planning service that was under-funded, under pressure and under-performing. It was, and still is, the subject of much criticism by the public and elected representatives. It has needed more resources and a complete overhaul of its policies, processes and powers. Since becoming Minister I have viewed this matter as one of utmost importance.
"My position is clear, for those who operate within the law, I wish to see speedy and effective planning decisions. For those who flaunt the law I wish to see equally speedy and effective sanctions applied.
"This Bill will considerably speed up and strengthen enforcement powers. It is proposed that fines will be increased from £5,000 to £20,000 and for the first time in Northern Ireland with regard to general enforcement notices a person may be brought before the Crown Court: in such a case there is no limit to the fine that could be imposed. It is also proposed, for the first time, that a person found guilty of an offence involving demolition or alteration of a listed building may be given a term of imprisonment.
"I also propose a major overhaul of the Department’s powers to protect and replace trees. And, I propose introducing ‘Spot-listing’. This is an extremely important provision, which will allow the Department to move quickly in circumstances where buildings are at risk.
"The Environment Committee has expressed concern that there are no provisions in the Bill to make it unlawful to commence development without planning permission. Let me say immediately, and in particular since I have come to the DOE and been directly involved in these issues, I empathise with the Committee’s wish to see this highly undesirable and unwelcome practice addressed. I want to engage in a positive and constructive discussion with the Environment Committee on the detail of this matter. To facilitate this discussion, I have today put forward to the Committee a detailed policy paper on the issues.
"Also, any provision to make it unlawful to commence development without planning permission would require the permission of the Secretary of State, since this is a reserved matter. However, I have already had preliminary discussions with him on the broad principle and would intend to consult further on details.
"This Bill must be viewed in the context of other action that I have in hand to improve the operation of the planning system. For these new powers to be truly effective more staff resources are needed for enforcement. Also I have put forward a substantial bid to the Executive Programme Fund to completely overhaul the Planning Service’s IT systems. If successful this would produce a quantum leap in the way the Planning Service does its business with the public. And, we are conducting the most comprehensive review of planning processes since 1973, the results of which will be announced later this year.
"To conclude, the provisions in the Bill will significantly improve how the planning system operates. Importantly, the Bill will enhance the Department’s enforcement powers and will enable enforcement action to be taken more quickly and more effectively."

Notes to Editors

The debate on the Planning Amendment Bill will take place around noon on Monday 24 June.
For further information please contact Philip Maguire, DOE Information Office, Tel 028 9054 0013 mobile 0787 6218890.
Main Provisions in the Bill
  • The early provisions in clauses 1 to 14 of the Bill substantially strengthen the DOE’s enforcement powers.
  • They introduce a new system of Planning Contravention Notices, Breach of Condition Notices, and the use of Injunctions. These new powers will be used to speed up and strengthen the enforcement process.
  • As part of the package of new measures increased levels of fines for non- compliance with enforcement notices, stop notices, and hazardous substances contravention notices.
  • The provisions include: -
    • an increase in the maximum level of fine, on summary conviction, from £5,000 to £20,000;
    • measures to allow for the first time in Northern Ireland a person to be convicted on indictment for this type of offence.
  • In the case of non-compliance with a listed building enforcement notice, in addition to higher fines, introducing new provisions to provide for custodial sentences for this type of offence – up to 6 months on summary conviction; up to 2 years on conviction on indictment.
  • Other changes in the Bill will establish a more streamlined and flexible enforcement regime. Provisions will include: -
    • new powers of entry for the purposes of investigating any alleged breach of planning control; and
    • the ability to withdraw or vary enforcement notices.
  • Clauses 15 to 23 in the Bill deal with new Controls over Development. They include provisions:-
    • introducing new controls over the demolition of buildings. Initially, they will apply to the demolition of buildings in Areas of Townscape Character.
    • also introducing a new power to decline to determine repeat planning applications, and,
    • introducing amendments to the application of planning agreements and new provisions relating to the modification or discharge of an agreement.
  • Introducing Building Preservation Notices for the temporary listing of buildings.
  • This power, which is commonly referred to as "spot-listing", is an extremely important provision, which will allow the Department to move quickly in circumstances where buildings are at risk. This will provide breathing space when it is needed.
  • The new enforcement powers being introduced by this Bill will afford greater protection to trees that are subject to a Tree Preservation Order. In addition, the Bill introduces some entirely new measures to protect trees. These include: -
    • a new duty to replace trees that are subject to a Tree Preservation Order;
    • a new provision to enable the Department to protect trees in a conservation area; and,
    • a new provision enabling the Department to restrict the compensation payable where consent to fell trees is refused.
  • Clauses 24 to 32 introduce some further Miscellaneous provisions. These include:-
    • Measures to give primacy to development plans in the determination of planning applications;
    • Provisions to give the Planning Appeals Commission new powers to dismiss appeals, in certain circumstance. In addition, the Bill will provide the Planning Appeals Commission with greater operational flexibility in how it determines appeals and reports to the Department on hearings and inquiries; and
    • Provisions are included to extend the Department’s grant-aiding powers with respect to the built environment;
  • The provisions in the Bill will significantly improve the legislative framework under which the planning system operates. Importantly, the Bill will enhance the Department’s enforcement powers and will enable enforcement action to be taken more quickly and more effectively.
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