Renewable planning applications in decline

agendaNi analyses the latest statistical bulletin for local authority and departmental influence on planning activity across Northern Ireland.

Declining numbers of renewable energy applications stand out as the greatest shift in statistics since planning powers were devolved to Northern Ireland’s 11 local authorities. The latest figures released by the Department for Infrastructure and measuring Quarter 3 (Q3), the three months at the end of 2016, show that alongside a decline in renewable energy applications, new applications for single wind turbines, which were previously dominant within the renewable category, are no longer the most popular.

A total of 21 renewable energy applications were submitted in Q3, a fall from 49 for the same period the previous year and the lowest Q3 recording since the 10 of 2003/04. The comparison is most stark when looking at the same quarter for the 2010/11 year, when 196 applications were lodged. A steady decline in renewable applications has been evident since 2015/16 and has been attributed to a reduction of government funding coupled with a lack of grid capacity to allow for new connections.

The fall in the number of applications is also correlated in a decline in decision making. The 50 applications decided in Q3 is lower than the 86 in the previous quarter and significantly lower than the 144 for the same period the previous year. However, the decline in applications is not represented in quicker average processing times. The average processing time for renewable planning applications in the first nine months of 2016/17 was 61.6 weeks, 13 weeks longer than the same period the previous year. In terms of local authorities, Causeway Coast and Glens received the most renewable applications (4), while Antrim and Newtownabbey, Derry City and Strabane, Fermanagh and Omagh and Mid Ulster all received three each. By the end of 2016, 198 renewable energy applications remained in the system, over 70 per cent of which have been lodged for over a year. The overall approval rate for renewable energy in Q3 was 68 per cent.

 

Overall planning applications in Northern Ireland rose by over 5 per cent on the previous quarter and compared to the same period the previous year for Q3, a small rise consistent with stable levels of increase and decline between quarters over the past six years. Belfast (423) and Newry Mourne and Down (372) were the two most popular council areas for applications, making up almost a quarter of the overall applications.

Despite not being the largest recipient of planning applications, Fermanagh and Omagh recorded the largest percentage increase, one of the eight councils to register an increase in Q3.

Decisions

Planning decisions made in Q3 fell by almost 14 per cent from the previous quarter and this represented a 3.7 per cent fall from the same period the previous year. Comparing the same period the previous year, Lisburn and Castlereagh (36.8 per cent), Newry, Mourne and Down (23.2 per cent) and Antrim and Newtownabbey (19.5 per cent) all increased their percentage of decisions made, however, the number of decisions fell in seven of the councils.

Approval

The overall approval rate for Northern Ireland in Q3 was 92.6 per cent, down slightly from the previous quarter and the previous year. Ards and North Down (97.5 per cent) had the highest approval rate while Newry, Mourne and Down (79.8 per cent) recorded the lowest.

By the end of 2016 there was 6,850 live applications in the Northern Ireland planning system, the second lowest figure since the devolution of planning powers to local councils in April 2015. Around 1,300 of the applications have been in the system for longer than a year. Mid and East Antrim recorded the lowest proportion of cases over one year old, roughly measuring one in every 12 applications, compared to the highest rate in Newry, Mourne and Down, where one in every three applications was over one year old.

Enforcement

There was a total of 742 enforcement cases opened across Northern Ireland in Q3, a 13 per cent rise on the same period the previous year and representing the largest number of cases opened in Q3 of any year since 2009/10. In the first six months of December 2016, over 80 per cent of all enforcement cases were concluded within 39 weeks, well above the 70 per cent statutory target. Ten out of the 11 councils are on track to meet their enforcement resolution targets of 39 weeks.

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