Planning Service Procedures to be Further Streamlined
Published on Wed, 27 Jul 2005
Environment Minister Jeff Rooker has announced the introduction of further measures to speed up the planning process.
The Minister said: "I am introducing changes to the Council consultation process. These measures are in response to acute pressures on the planning system and have, at their heart, the twin aim of improving throughput at a difficult time and making best use of available resources. The changes have already received widespread support through the Modernising Planning Processes consultation exercise in 2002."
The Minister pointed out that there has been a 30% rise in planning applications, and that while improvements to the planning process were already in train, further, immediate, steps were needed to cope with the workload.
He added: "We also need to strengthen our focus on service delivery, particularly for the economically and socially more significant applications. The action that will be taken is not intended to lessen or weaken the essential role that Council consultations play in the planning process. Consultation with locally elected representatives is an essential part of the planning process and we remain committed to ensuring that the consultation is meaningful and that the views of Councils are taken into account."
Jeff Rooker stressed that as well as resources having to be used to best effect, service delivery had to improve, as part of the drive to ensure economic and social revitalisation of Northern Ireland. He pointed out that the new arrangements were part of wider activity by the Planning Service to deal with the unprecedented increase in applications and to improve service delivery.
Notes to Editors
- In the three year period up to March 2005, the total number of planning applications received increased by 30%. The trend is continuing, with an 11% increase in the first quarter of the new financial year compared to the same period last year.
- Staff were redeployed from area plans and policy work for a six-month period last year to assist with the handling of applications. This arrangement has ended, as it was not feasible in the longer term to continue to divert staff from other key areas of work. However, there is a need to consolidate the progress that was made during the redeployment period.
- The Modernising Planning Processes (MPP) Implementation Plan published in February 2003 set out a range of reforms affecting all aspects of the process, including proposed new arrangements for consultation with Councils. These had been the subject of extensive public consultation and there was widespread support for the proposals. The Planning Service has been engaged with Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) in looking at how this might be taken forward.
- At present, many Councils defer planning applications on more than one occasion, requesting meetings and delaying the issuing of a final decision. This process of multiple deferrals requires a significant commitment of time and financial resources by both Planning Service and Councils.
- In line with the MPP recommendations it is therefore intended that in cases where a Council wants to defer an application, the Council provides clear planning reasons for the request for a deferral, and that meetings to discuss deferred applications will be office based, unless, exceptionally, the meeting needs to take place at the location of the proposed development, and that applications may only be deferred once.
- Subject to the outcome of any such meeting, the application will be taken back to Council with either the same or a revised opinion and Council will be asked for its view. Thereafter, a decision will be issued.
- Action will also be taken to ensure that cases referred to the Planning Service Management Board for decision comply with agreed criteria, otherwise they will not be accepted by the Management Board.
- These arrangements are part of a wider set of activity to deal with the unprecedented increase in applications and to improve service delivery. The Planning Service also has an ambitious legislative programme and is in the design phase of a major new IT system which will transform the way the planning process operates. All of the key planning processes are being reviewed, including new arrangements to return invalid applications and improved monitoring arrangements for key consultees, to ensure that they are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. There is also restructuring at headquarters to provide a sharper focus on major applications, given the significant investment that is expected in the coming years. In addition, the policies and systems for contact with staff are being reviewed to better manage contact and to enhance the service to local representatives, agents, applicants and the public generally.
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