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07/05/2020

Latest NI Covid-19 planning update highlights flexible committees and greater delegation

Words: Roger Milne
Virtual planning meeting / iStock-1088347334

Northern Ireland’s chief planner Angus Kerr’s latest update (no 6) highlights that new regulations on local authority committee meetings are now in force. 

The Local Government (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of District Council Meetings) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 came into effect on 1 May 2020.

These allow district councils to hold meetings remotely by telephone conferencing, videoconferencing, live webcast and live interactive streaming.

The regulations apply to all councils and all council meetings, including committee or sub-committee meetings, executive meetings and meetings of joint committees of two or more councils.

Kerr also urges councils to review their schemes of delegation to reduce the number of applications that need to go to committee for decision.

The chief planner notes that some councils have prepared, or are preparing, amended protocols to allow decisions for major (and other) planning applications to be taken by chief executives under the Local Government Act (NI) 2014.

Kerr also acknowledges that statutory requirements in respect of newspaper advertisements and neighbour notifications remain in place, but may need refining.

Local papers are struggling to maintain their circulation in some areas. Kerr says a council can choose to advertise in whatever paper or papers that continue to circulate in its areas, whether it is a regional title or a more local paper.

The chief planner has also recognised that local development plan timetables are being seriously affected by the Covid-19 outbreak and has allowed a further three months’ flexibility in the case of meeting earlier agreed timetables.

He also stresses that statutory consultees should remain able to conduct business as usual activities with all able to participate in virtual or telephone meetings to address any planning queries.

Kerr uses the update to highlight that good progress is under way on replacing the NI Planning Portal with a new and more modern regional planning IT system. The new service is currently at the procurement stage and he has urged planners to make sure that their councils have approved the business case and funding proposals.

Image credit | iStock

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