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Infrastructure department: Northern Ireland planning system 'in a better place' since 2015 changes

Words: Martin Read
Riddel Hall

Speaking at today's inaugural RTPI Northern Ireland annual planning conference, Peter May, permanent secretary at Northern Ireland's Department for Infrastructure, said that planning in Northern Ireland has never had a greater opportunity to "demonstrate its value to local communities, delivering for councils and to wider society".

While processing times for major applications are falling short of the set thirty week target, the number of enforcement cases is continuing to rise and, in the 19 months since Northern Ireland's new planning system went live, each of the 11 newly defined councils are pushing ahead with their local development plans.

May accepted that the new system was still bedding down, but believed that planning in Northern Ireland "is in a far better place now".

As well as the devolution of planning to the 11 local authorities, May spoke of the introduction last September of Northern Ireland's regional strategic planning policy statement (SPPS) which, said May, is "an essential component in the reform of the planning system, one destined to create a better environment and stronger economy".

"Planning is not a static environment, and it certainly has not been here in recent times, said May, "and I can tell you that while minister for infrastructure Chris Hazzard is not looking to make further changes, he will be listening to concerns and suggestions for improvements."

May spoke of The Stormont government's programme of government department reduction, out of which the Department of Infrastructure was set up. Planning's place in his new department would be beneficial for the profession, he suggested.

"Planning is now sitting in the same department as flood risk prevention and transportation policy, while significant regeneration sites come within the department's purview too."

May also spoke about how infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard is to review planning policy related to renewable energy and the countryside while also looking at permitted development rights for oil and gas, with a view to subjecting applications to "more rigourous environmental assessment".

The RTPI Northern Ireland annual planning conference continues this afternoon.