Positive trends in planning

PEYE 141113KB1 104 Clyde Shanks points to the recent improvements in planning and the housing market and calls for the new councils to support this growth.

Like me, I’m sure you’ve noticed that there is more of a spring in the step of commercial and residential property agents these days. When they are happy, you can be sure the economy is on the move.

Over the last six months or so, I have consistently heard agents tell me they are very busy. That is certainly very encouraging and a comforting sign to a planning consultant that work is on the horizon.

Land is selling, assets are being acquired and deals are being done. When those ingredients are in play, it is inevitable that purchasers will soon be hunting to secure value generating and market appropriate planning permissions. And when they do, we wish to be at the front of the queue.

The Cerberus acquisition of Nama assets in Northern Ireland has created a lot of discussion and debate on the next chapter. Will they offload acquisitions for a fraction of what these were once purchased for and will that bring increased building activity?

Whilst residential land is selling in good locations, that has not yet converted into a significant rise in residential planning applications. There is, though, an evident turn in the market. We are busier now on residential work than at any time since the property downturn. Pleasingly, that has also been reflected in a sharp turnaround on applications we have submitted – an example being permission at the end of June for a nine-storey regeneration of a derelict site on the Dublin Road in Belfast, secured in six months for the Richland Group. We should shortly see another long-awaited crane on the city skyline.

In 2008, housing development would have accounted for the majority of our work and it is refreshing to return to preparing design concept statements and re-kindling relationships with recovering builders as well as establishing new relationships with emerging entrants to the market. It is an area that we will look with confidence to further growth in the coming year as the recovery maintains its progress.

Whilst there are welcome signs of recovery, reversing some of the heavy job losses incurred by the industry, challenges lie ahead in maintaining its upward trend.

We now have the prospect of developers being required to fund the provision of affordable housing with a consultation on a draft new policy statement and the method and level of contribution to be secured from all housing sites of more than five units. Responses from the industry have been requested before the end of August with a healthy response likely given the potential that it has to significantly impact on development viability.

With the council elections behind us, the clock is now moving rapidly towards the new 11-council regime that will go ‘live’ from 1 April 2015. The ‘super’ councils will undoubtedly wish to place their own stamp on their areas and that will include launching new development plans.

With all of this structural change, there will continue to be a recovering economy that is vitally dependent on a functioning and responsive planning system to maintain continuity of supply.

Much improvement has been evident in culture and responsiveness in DoE Planning over the last number of years. Much too is expected of the new local arrangements with an opportunity to make the planning system significantly improved for all.

Maintaining the enhanced performance levels achieved in recent times by DoE must be the early objective of the new directors of development in the councils. Achieving that would keep a spring in the step of more than just our friendly property agents.

Clyde Shanks is Director of planning consultancy Clyde Shanks which is planning development across Northern Ireland from its six-strong team based in Belfast. If you are planning development, we’d be delighted to help you achieve planning permission. For further information please view our website ( or call us on 028 9043 4393.

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