Planning transition progress

agendaNi looks at the performance of the planning system one year on from the transfer of powers to local government.


Speaking on the anniversary of the transfer of planning powers from the Department of the Environment to the 11 new councils, Chief Planner Fiona McCandless claims that the council’s assumption of their new role has been a success.

McCandless told the BBC’s Inside Business programme that the Planning Service had been pleased by the transition. She highlighted the fact that the backlog of planning cases had been significantly decreased. “The councils were sufficiently resourced to deal with the applications transferred to them,” she said. She added that council staff and councillors had demonstrated professionalism during the transition and had the required skills and resources to deal with the new powers.

According to the latest statistics for housing in Northern Ireland for 2014-2015, there were 7,339 residential planning applications, this is a rise of 16 per cent on the previous year. For 6,406 of these applications, decisions were made with 93 per cent granted (5,974).

Figures for the first three months of the transfer to local councils showed that the number of planning applications received in Northern Ireland was 3,188, a decrease of 5.5 per cent compared to the previous year. The councils received 3,091 local developments applications, 94 major development applications and three regionally significant development applications. The average processing time to decide major development applications was 37.6 weeks across all councils. This was nine weeks longer than the Northern Ireland processing time on the previous year. However, it is an improvement of almost six weeks from the final quarter of 2014/15.

The average processing time to decide local development planning applications was a total of 19 weeks across all councils, up slightly on the 18.6 weeks recorded in the final quarter of 2014/15. This ranged from 13.1 weeks in Fermanagh and Omagh to 28.4 weeks in Newry, Mourne and Down.

The time taken to process 70 per cent of enforcement cases across all councils was 33.6 weeks, over five weeks lower than the 39-week target and an improvement of just over three weeks on the 36.8 weeks achieved in the same quarter in the previous year. At council level, the shortest time taken to conclude 70 per cent of cases was 14.3 weeks in Antrim and Newtownabbey whilst the longest was 55.9 weeks in Newry, Mourne and Down.

The number of live planning applications dated over a year old at the end of June 2015 was 1,128. This continues the five-year downward trend in the proportion of older applications, with one in seven applications taking over a year to process compared to one in three at the end of June 2010.

McCandless said further improvements to the system and capacity building were required. There was also a need to achieve the long-term aims of the planning reforms, including public participation.

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