A report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office has concluded that the planning system is “not working efficiently and, in many aspects, is failing to deliver for the economy, communities or the environment”.
The report on ‘Planning in Northern Ireland’ considers how the system has operated since April 2015, when responsibility for delivering the majority of operational planning functions passed from central government to local councils. However, the Department for Infrastructure retains a central role, with responsibility for preparing planning policy and legislation, as well as monitoring and reporting on the performance of councils in delivering planning functions.
The report notes that there is significant silo working in the planning system, and that the most important planning applications are still taking too long to process. Almost three quarters of Regionally Significant and Major planning applications processed between 2017-18 and 2019-20
weren’t completed within the statutory target of 30 weeks. Over half (56 per cent) had taken more than one year to process, and 19 per cent more than three years.
Furthermore, the report acknowledges that Planning decisions have become increasingly complex, requiring more interaction with those who have specialist knowledge or skills, particularly in regards to assessing and managing environmental impacts. Because planning fees have not been adjusted to account for this, the system has become financially unsustainable and the gap between the income generated from planning
activities by councils and the cost of those activities has increased significantly. These pressures have also contributed to slow progress in the creation of Local Development Plans (LDPs) by councils.
The review was published shortly after the Department for Infrastructure published it’s review of the Planning Act (NI) 2011.
Read the full report below.