Planning Portal

Planning Service Acts To Meet Customer Demands

Published on Thu, 14 Oct 2004
Environment Minister Angela Smith today announced action to be taken within the Planning Service to tackle the unprecedented increase in planning applications.
The Minister said: "The increased volume of planning applications has led to greater demands on the Agency’s resources. The workload pressures placed on staff are outweighing our capacity to provide a quality service. While we have recruited additional staff, we recognise that further action is needed to deal with the current situation."
The action will involve the immediate freeing up of as many resources as possible in other areas of the Agency to focus on the planning applications work. The aim is to reduce current pressures and get processing times and service back to acceptable levels. The 33,000 planning applications submitted last year represented a 20% increase over the previous 12 months, and this year’s projected 43,000 applications will mean a further 30% increase. Processing times have inevitably suffered as workloads have risen well in excess of forecast.
It is envisaged that the temporary re-allocation of applications work to staff in other areas of the Agency will initially be for a period of 6 months and will have a knock on effect on emerging area plans. Other area plans such as the Ards and Down, and Magherafelt will be protected, as will the Draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan and work on the Craigavon town centre boundary. Some projects under the umbrella of Modernising Planning Processes – a major 3-year service improvement initiative will also be re-scheduled to free up resources.
Angela Smith said: "I fully understand that temporarily pulling back on our area plan programme will cause concerns. But we need to respond now to the increasing and unprecedented pressures in applications work and to use the resources available to us to provide a proper service to the public and to meet our legal obligations to them. We have recruited additional staff, and resources have been secured to further increase the staff complement. However, even though we continue to bring the Agency up to the new complement, we recognise that further action is needed."

Notes to Editors

  1. Planning Service is currently facing rapidly increasing and unprecedented workload pressures. The number of applications has doubled in the past 10 years. Last year there was a 20% increase resulting in 33,000 applications being made. This year projections suggest 43,000 a further 30% increase.
  2. The recent industrial action has also impacted on the processing of applications.
  3. The Agency’s recruitment programme is ongoing and aims to fill the remaining vacancies within the next 6 months. Numbers have increased from just under 600 in 2002 to around 720 over the past year. However, it takes time before new recruits and those promoted gain experience and become fully operational. In the circumstances the recruitment of new staff alone is not enough to resolve the increasing operational difficulties.
  4. The best and most effective way to tackle the problems facing the Planning Service is a temporary re-allocation of work. This will involve concentrating on the demand-led side of the business (Development Control) to address the workload pressures and, in doing so, improve processing times.
  5. There will be implications for the Area Plans and Planning Policy Statement programmes and for the Modernising Planning Processes Programme (MPP). Commitments to the Ards/Down and Magherafelt Area Plans public inquiries will be protected. In addition, the commitment to the draft BMAP, scheduled for publication at the end of November 2004, will also be met. Work will also continue on the Craigavon town centre boundary. Progress with the remainder of our work on Area Plans and Policy will be slower than intended. Some MPP projects will also be re-scheduled for a time to ease the burden. The overall impact on all of this work will be reassessed and re-prioritised over the coming months.
  6. For further media queries please contact Brian Kirk on 028 9054 0013.
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