Planning for the future

Helen Harrison Helen Harrison, Director at Juno Planning and Environmental Ltd, previews the way ahead for local planning.

It’s official and it’s almost here. The Northern Ireland planning system is finally getting the radical makeover we’ve been waiting for but will it be worth the wait and can it deliver positive change? As Winston Churchill said announcing his first Budget in 1925: “There is nothing wrong with change if it is the right direction.”

Few could argue that the forthcoming changes are not the ‘right direction’, with the legacy of a planning system marred by outdated policy, indecision, inconsistency, uncertainty and the inevitable legal challenges. It’s time to look forward rather than back to past failures, but we must learn from our mistakes as we prepare for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Local planning authorities have the unenviable task of dealing with this legacy where only two new Councils have up-to-date adopted development plans, with some plans and policy dating back to 1980s and 1990s.

We must all get to grips with the Single Planning Policy Statement in its final form and Councils must develop their own visions which are consistent with wider Council strategies and can be translated into local development plans. All this whilst undertaking the day-to-day functions of a planning authority dealing with planning applications and investment which cannot wait for the new policies and plans. Key planning issues for the new Councils will be housing, the economy, the environment and energy.

Alongside these weighty challenges will come the greatest opportunities that we have seen for 20-30 years where everyone, be they individuals, community groups, housing associations, local businesses and potential investors, can take an active part in planning the future of Northern Ireland.

Current and effective planning policy must become the cornerstone of a successful and transparent planning system which nurtures and promotes sustainable development in Northern Ireland, where local residents and investors alike are involved and have some degree of certainty over the future planning of Council areas. Councils will have to think strategically as they work together on cross-boundary issues and compete with each other to deliver local development plans and community plans which will set the scene for funding and investment.

It is likely to be at least 2-3 years before we see the new local development plans. In the meantime, the green shoots of recovery are flourishing with a number of significant urban regeneration projects planned and under way. The symbolic tower cranes have at last returned to the cityscapes of Belfast and Derry with the £250 million University of Ulster campus in Belfast and Ebrington Barracks in Derry.

The team at Juno are immensely proud to be the planning consultants on the university campus project which will see 12,450 students and 1,300 staff relocate into the heart of Belfast. The huge catalytic potential of this development is recognised with a regeneration multiplier of 5:1. Urban regeneration projects don’t come much better than this! Further game-changing regeneration is on its way in Belfast with the

£30 million Streets Ahead 3 project, £250 million City Quays development, the planned Belfast Transport Hub and ongoing developments at Titanic Quarter.

Someone much more learned than I (the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead) said: “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.” We must, of course, expect some serious teething problems post-April 2015 and things may well get worse before they get better, but this is progress in “the right direction”.

Profile: Juno Planning and Environmental Ltd

Juno Planning & Environmental Ltd is an independent planning consultancy advising public and private sector clients on major development projects and environmental impact assessments. Juno is currently working for University of Ulster and Bombardier Aerospace; further projects include the North West One development in Derry and a number of commercial wind farms. The Juno team has worked with existing Councils and is well placed to advise on the mechanics of the reformed planning system, bringing first-hand experience of working within local planning authorities operating under similar planning regimes in England, Scotland and Republic of Ireland.

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T: 028 9064 5222
E: info@junoplanning.com
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