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MacKinnon report proposes that PAC should take over DfI’s responsibility for regionally significant schemes

Words: Roger Milne
Northern Ireland / iStock-182424560

Former Scottish chief planner Jim MacKinnon has proposed that the Department for Infrastructure should no longer have responsibility for handling and deciding regionally significant applications in Northern Ireland.

According to a CBI NI report written in partnership with MacKinnon, the responsibility for managing the handling and determination of regionally significant schemes should rest with the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).

As well as this radical proposal, the report includes recommendations on the strengthening of pre-application discussions; requiring a timetable for handling major applications (possibly with fines for failure to adhere to the timetable); and introducing a presumption against the use of the notice of opinion option, which is unique to Northern Ireland.

Also proposed is widening the definition of regionally significant applications to include major proposals for business and housing development.

The report highlighted that Northern Ireland is currently the only administration in the UK and Ireland not to have a long-term infrastructure strategy or framework.

It argues that the Northern Ireland Executive needs to inject long-term strategic planning into its core decision-making.

“To achieve long-term goals, Northern Ireland urgently needs an independent body that can develop an objective, expert-led, 30-year infrastructure strategy and can oversee the streamlining of planning processes to fast-track delivery.

“Early action on these recommendations takes on added significance as Northern Ireland seeks to stimulate sustainable economic recovery and growth in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond,” commented McKinnon.

CBI NI director Angela McGowan said: “There’s growing recognition around the world that investment in strategic infrastructure can play a significant role in turbocharging post-Covid recovery.

“While the benefits of investment are clear, the ability to deliver remains a challenge. Among many challenges, one of the biggest stumbling blocks remains Northern Ireland’s complex and burdensome planning process.

"However, with the statutory review of the Planning Act 2011 now under way, and the Ministerial Panel on Infrastructure delivering its findings in recent weeks, we have a golden opportunity to level up the planning process.

“As we head into a prolonged period of economic uncertainty, we must seize this opportunity to build back better from the Covid crisis – that means implementing necessary reforms immediately to unlock growth."

“Firm and committed leadership from policymakers across our political spectrum will be needed to turn opportunity into sustained delivery,” she insisted.

Image credit | iStock