Planning Portal

New legislation decisive move to make planning more accountable and open, quicker and tougher

Published on Mon, 14 Jan 2013 by ecomms@doeni.gov.uk.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood will today introduce legislation to ensure planning is more efficient and more economy friendly in the run up to the transfer of planning powers to councils.
The Planning Bill, which will be introduced to the Assembly today, will speed up reforms and modernise the planning system before the majority of planning powers transfer to local government in 2015.
Key provisions in the Bill which will streamline planning and facilitate speedier decision making include:
• The option to appoint persons other than the Planning Appeals Commission to conduct inquiries on major planning applications;
• Changes to the planning appeals system to make this faster and fairer such as reducing the time limit for submitting appeals; restricting the introduction of new material at appeal; allowing the PAC to award costs where the unreasonable behaviour of one party has left another out of pocket;
• A new duty for statutory consultees to respond to consultations within a prescribed time frame;
• Enhanced community involvement - developers will be required to consult the community before submitting major planning applications
• Simpler, tougher enforcement through raising potential fines from £30,000 to £100,000 for a series of offences; introducing fixed penalty notices where an enforcement notice has not been complied with as an alternative to costly and lengthy prosecutions through the Courts ; multiple fees for retrospective planning applications;
• Promoting economic development/regard to any economic advantages or disadvantages likely to result from granting or refusing planning permission;
• Measures to enhance the environment such as a requirement to obtain the Department’s consent prior to the felling of dying trees covered by a tree preservation order.
Alex Attwood said: “Since becoming Environment Minister, ensuring we provide a much better, more speedy and decisive planning service has been a top priority for me. Planning as a vehicle for strengthening our economy, without compromising on protecting the environment is also a key driver for me. This Planning Bill will deliver on that and the Executive's Programme for Government.
“These reforms were not meant to be in place until 2015. I am not prepared to wait. I am introducing these reforms two years early to make planning better fit for purpose today and better fit for purpose in when many planning functions transfer to councils in 2015. This is a more practical way forward. It means we will reap the benefits of the reforms sooner. It means we will transfer a system which councils, planners, developers and the public are already using and which they know and understand.
“It will make the planning system more efficient for business, with greater certainty for developers and faster processing of planning applications.
“It will make enforcement simpler and tougher - and allow for faster and fairer planning appeals. It will also allow communities to have a stronger role in influencing the development of their areas. Through this Bill anyone who is interested in a proposed major development will have an opportunity to comment on it before the developer submits a planning application.
The Minister concluded: "Overall this Bill will accelerate measures to modernise and strengthen the planning system to support economic recovery and to set the foundations for the future transfer of planning to local councils. It means planning will be more accountable and open and faster but it will also be tougher on those who get on the wrong side of best planning practice.”
Notes to editors:
1. The Planning Act (NI) 2011 which received Royal Assent in May 2011 provides for the modernisation of the planning system and for the transfer of most planning powers from DOE to councils. Key reforms take effect when planning powers transfer to district councils. The primary aim of this Bill is to reproduce key provisions in the Planning Act 2011 to allow DOE to deliver reforms prior to the transfer of planning powers. It will also contain provision to underpin the role of planning in promoting economic development. The Bill is intended as an interim measure most of which would remain in place only until it is possible to fully commence the 2011 Planning Act.
2. Among the reforms to be included in the Bill are:
• Faster processing of planning applications by streamlining processes to speed up decision-making and deliver development. This includes the appointment of persons other than the Planning Appeals Commission to conduct inquiries and hearings into major planning applications and a new duty for statutory consultees to respond to consultation within a prescribed time frame.
• Faster and fairer planning appeals system through restricting the introduction of new material at appeal and allowing the Planning Appeal Commission to award costs where the unreasonable behaviour of one party has left another out of pocket. The time limit for submitting appeals is also reduced from six to four months.
• Enhanced community involvement through a requirement on DOE to prepare and publish within one year a statement of its policy for involving the community in the delivery of planning functions. Developers will also be required to consult the community before submitting major planning applications and demonstrate they have done so.
• Simpler and tougher enforcement through raising fines to £100,000 for a series of offences, introducing fixed penalty notices where an enforcement notice has not been complied with as an alternative to costly and lengthy prosecutions through the Courts, as well as multiple fees for retrospective planning applications.
• The Department when formulating policy must do so with the objectives of furthering sustainable development, promoting or improving well being and promoting economic development. In addition the Department when determining planning applications will be required to have regard to any economic advantages or disadvantages likely to result from granting or refusing planning permission.
• Other measures to enhance the environment include a requirement to obtain the Department’s consent prior to the felling of trees covered by a tree preservation order which are dying and extending the power of the DOE to award a grant to non-profit organisations which assist the community with understanding planning policy and the technical aspects of planning.
3. All media enquiries should be directed to the DOE Press Office on 028 9054 0003. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.
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