Planning Portal

Changes to Planning

Published on Tue, 31 Mar 2015 by
On 1 April 2015, the Department of the Environment will transfer responsibility for the majority of planning functions to local government. This marks the most significant change to our planning system in over 40 years and empowers local councils to shape how their area grows and develops.


From 1 April 2015, the responsibility for planning will be shared between the 11 new councils and the Department of the Environment. The planning officers who currently handle planning applications within the Department are moving to local councils and will bring with them their knowledge, skills and experience.
Following transfer, the 11 new councils will be responsible for:
  • Local development planning – creating a plan which will set out a clear vision of how the council area should look in the future by deciding what type and scale of development should be encouraged and where it should be located;
  • Development management – determining the vast majority of planning applications;
  • Planning enforcement – investigating alleged breaches of planning control and determining what action should be taken.
If you are unsure which new council area you are in, you can find out at
The Department will retain responsibility for:
  • Determination of regionally significant and ‘called-in’ applications;
  • Regional planning policy;
  • Planning legislation;
  • Oversight and guidance for councils;
  • Performance management.
The Department is also introducing improvements which will make planning a speedier, simpler and more streamlined process. These improvements will make it easier for the public to access and participate in the planning process and help deliver faster and more predictable decisions. Councils will be preparing statements of Community Involvement and major applications will require Pre-application Community Consultation.

New planning process

The transfer of planning to councils also coincides with significant reforms and improvements to the planning process introduced through the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 and associated subordinate legislation.
A new hierarchy of development has been introduced which categorises planning applications as local, major and regionally significant with councils responsible for determining all local and major applications. Each council will establish a planning committee to consider and decide these applications; however, not all applications will come before the planning committee for decision. The council will publish a Scheme of Delegation that will set out which applications will be dealt with by the Planning Committee and which will be delegated to officers. The applications which are likely to come before the committee for decision may include large developments, contentious applications and those that receive a number of objections. As well as speeding up processing times delegating applications in this way will free councillors to deal properly with the more strategic and complex cases.

Planning applications and planning queries

The majority of queries relating to the planning process and planning applications  should be directed to your local area planning office where experienced officers will be able to advise you. Each new council area will have its own local planning office so you may find that your nearest office is much closer than before. Attached link provides addresses and relevant contact details.

Benefits of this new approach

One of the main benefits from these reforms will be putting the decision making in the hands of those with local knowledge. Local councillors know their environment, needs and views of local people and so are best placed to make the decisions on how their area should grow and develop. Councils will be able to make planning decisions suited to local communities and will have greater freedom to respond to local need. They will also be able to ensure that the needs of businesses are taken into account which can help create jobs and growth in the economy.
The new approach allows Councils to engage earlier and more meaningfully with local communities in plan preparation and in determining planning applications. This gives businesses, communities, and local groups and organisations a real opportunity to have a say in shaping their local area.

Important Dates

On 1 April 2015, the responsibility to determine all major and local planning applications will transfer to councils. The local council will also have responsibility for enforcement activity and the preparation of local development plans.  

Transitional Arrangements

In order to ensure the smooth transfer of powers the Department has put in place a range of transitional arrangements for the new two tier planning system. This will ensure that existing planning applications and enforcement cases automatically transfer to Councils on 1 April 2015 for them to progress.
The Department will continue to process regionally significant applications and retain jurisdiction over a very small number of on-going non-Article 31 applications and enforcement cases.

The Planning Portal During Transitional Period

DOE is currently undertaking a programme of essential enhancements for the Planning Portal to ensure it can respond to the legislative changes being introduced by the Planning Act (NI) 2011.
The Planning Portal, will be available throughout the transitional period 1 April to 6 April 2015 although there will be limited ability to search and monitor planning applications from close of play 1 April until close of play Saturday 4 April 2015.
In addition, the Department is currently reviewing the content of the website to ensure it is appropriate and relevant to the new two tier planning system.

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