The RSUA local groups in Mid Ulster and Causeway Coast and Glens met with their respective Heads of Planning recently to raise issues relating to the planning system, Council approaches to quality and how architects can help improve processes.
Mid Ulster Local Group
On Monday 14 February the Mid Ulster local group, led by Roger Sally met Dr Chris Boomer, Head of Planning at Mid Ulster District Council.
Members discussed how local architects could become involved in the next stage of preparation of the Local Development Plan in Mid Ulster ahead of the public enquiry stage towards the end of 2022 into 2023.
The local group agreed to assist in developing guiding principles on how towns in the Mid Ulster area might be developed and several local members will work with planners on the different towns within the locality with a workshop planned later in 2022.
The group took the opportunity to hear from Dr Boomer on the new planning system being rolled out by Mid Ulster which would come online in June 2022.
Whilst the new system would be similar to the current regional system, it would be standalone in that Council area, and it was agreed given the option to create new templates on the system than any confirmation letters issued following an application would now include case officer details to ensure easy communication between staff and agents.
The next Mid Ulster group meeting will feature a talk by Jessica McGarry of McGarry-Moon to be given in their award-winning offices near Kilrea at 11:00 am on Tuesday 15 March.
Causeway Coast and Glens Local Group
On 22 February the Causeway Coast and Glens local group met with Denise Dickson, Head of Planning led by group chair, Murray Bell to discuss the Planning Review report written by Mr J Mackinnon which had highlighted in particular the disparity in approaches by some Councils to applications.
The Council had recently embarked on a customer survey process and members discussed how this could be effective and engaging for those involved in the planning application process to identify any problems and find solutions.
The quality of applications featured heavily in discussions with planners. The Planning Review report had referred to poor quality submissions and their impact on the processing of applications and members felt it was important to distinguish between applications made by architects and non-architects.
Members were informed that councillors in Causeway Coast and Glens had agreed on an application checklist that would assist in front-loading applications following the example of Belfast City Council.
It was also agreed that the Head of Planning would undertake to perform a quarterly check on the quality of submissions. The details of agents would be checked against the ARB register to determine if they were architects and RSUA would seek to assist in easier ways of identifying architects for this purpose.
The Council agreed to provide links to RSUA on their planning website and the organisation would provide leaflets to be placed at the planning reception in Coleraine.
The next meeting of the group alongside Council staff is planned for April.
Both local groups took the opportunity to highlight the difficulties around water infrastructure in their respective districts and sought clarity on the current planning approach to this problem.
Members were informed that planning applications at this time are being approved but only subject to water service approval and that the onus on demonstrating sustainability for wastewater processes was on developers.
Dr Boomer at Mid Ulster informed members that pre-development studies should be used to ensure that a water solution exists with NI Water and establish costs that could avoid lengthy delays.
PAD processes also featured high on both local group agendas. In Mid Ulster, the planning team consisted of two teams who were open to early consultation in addition to staff engaged in the PAD process for larger projects.
Causeway Coast and Glens area face some difficulties with their current process which was acknowledged by both members and planners, often delayed due to lack of responses by consultees.
In seeking to address the problem, members were informed that an informal process involving just planning officers with agents had been working well and floated the idea of an online PAD calendar where agents could book these meetings in advance.
Members sought to have the design concept included in these discussions as an opportunity to outline proposals and their background to planning officers and both the Council and RSUA are to convene a further meeting to discuss a new process.
RSUA has agreed on meeting dates for all other local groups throughout March and April and will report on the outcomes and future plans on our website.