RSUA has responded to the Department for Infrastructure’s Call for Evidence in respect of the review of the implementation of the Planning Act (NI) 2011.
In comments on Part 2 of the Act, RSUA supported the idea that local authorities are required to identify strategic objectives for growth, provide up-to-date assessments of an area’s development needs, encourage greater involvement from the community, and further the objectives of sustainable development. RSUA also noted that the emergence of Local Development Plans (LDPs) has been exceedingly slow which means the policy context in which planning decisions are being taken is out of date. RSUA further noted that the absence of clear development plans, policy, and guidance reduces confidence in outcomes and deters international investment.
RSUA believes that the Regional Development Strategy (RDS) should be reviewed and updated as a matter of urgency as there is a danger that local authority LDPs will fail to fit into a coherent overall vision for Northern Ireland. RSUA highlighted a lack of co-ordination between the various policy contexts as potentially weakening development control measures.
On the question relating to Part 3 and Part 4 of the Act RSUA suggested one key change that is needed in Northern Ireland is something between a ‘non-material change’ (Section 96a in England) and a full planning application – the equivalent to a ‘material change’ Section 73 application in England. This would allow relatively minor changes to avoid the need for a full planning application.
RSUA supports statutory deadlines for planning decisions – as is the case in other jurisdictions – as a way of providing certainty to investors and developers.
Pre-Application Discussions (PADs) don’t appear to be functioning as intended: applicants aren’t getting sufficient confidence, the process is unwieldy and the amount of detail requested is often burdensome. Resources should be available to enable PADs for all applications.
With respect to issues in Part 5 of the Act which considers enforcement, RSUA believes that sanctions in the current legislation should be extended to enforcement cases involving damage to, or demolition of, identified non-designated heritage assets.
The Department finally asked a question about how to safeguard the system against potential future adverse impacts associated with emergency situations (such as are being experienced as a result of COVID-19). RSUA expressed its support for online meetings as a way to save time, but also cautioned against a sole reliance on it. RSUA suggested online submission of applications and information would increase the resilience of the system and improve the experience of its users.
You can read the full response here.