Planning on Probation: Q1 Report

Michael Gordon

New planning went live on 1 April 2015. There was no dry run and there is no probationary period but one quarter in we can take stock, review progress and begin to look further ahead.

A look at Belfast
So, the big question has been whether the Planning Committees will run with the recommendations of their planning teams or go ‘off-piste.’

Performance to date
The evidence from the first three months points towards the former. Take Belfast City Council, for example; 43 planning applications have been brought to Committee so far. Planners have recommended 37 for approval and six for refusal. Committee has gone with the planners’ recommendation on every occasion.

Like others, the Committee has been addressed by those advocating that applications should be approved or refused – supporters and objectors. Unlike prior to 1 April 2015, the evidence is that the Committees are there to make decisions, not to defer applications for further consideration. This is a significant shift which reflects the changed role of the Council under the new arrangements.
Only six applications have been deferred. Four of those were recommended for approval and two for refusal. Although the numbers are small, the evidence would suggest that it is difficult for an applicant to overturn a position where the planning officers are recommending refusal. In this respect, at least, while everything has changed, nothing has changed (yet?).

This is not to say that Committee debate has been limited or that decisions have been made without dissent. There are several examples already of cases where the decisions have been made by a majority of one.

Performance management is starting to present itself to applicants in the form of a renewed drive to clear out the older ‘legacy’ applications which have been carried over from the Department. That said, applicants tend to prefer a slow yes than a quick no.

1st July, marking the requirement for pre-application community consultation on major applications has been and gone, with the predictable rush to submission ahead of that date for a number of applications.

On the development planning side, there have been few public signs of any significant progress but it is too early to say. The repercussions of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) judgement when it comes, one way or the other, will be interesting to observe.

Looking ahead
With a number of months behind them, it must be reasonable to presume that we can start to expect to see cases where the planning officer’s recommendation is challenged by the Committee.

Costs at appeal are likely to start to feature more prominently in the minds of applicants who are robustly defending their case. It will be interesting to see how this new feature of the system will play out.

Community influence will begin to assert itself on the outcome of major applications. Councils will be interested to see how proposals have been influenced by their constituents. Applicants who do not have much scope to develop consensus will rely more and more on the quality of their planning arguments, including the economic benefit they can deliver.

We will also start to gather some intelligence on how DoE is going about its business with regionally significant planning applications and development plan oversight.

Michael Gordon
Hamilton House
3 Joy Street, Belfast, BT2 8LE
Tel: 028 9072 3900
Mobile: 07766770652
Email: michael.gordon@turley.co.uk
Web: www.turley.co.uk
www.niplanningreform.com

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