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Planning responsibilities set to be redistributed as departments culled in Northern Ireland

Words: Roger Milne

Legislation cutting the number of Stormont departments from 12 to nine has cleared its final hurdle in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The number of offices will reduce after the May elections under the Departments Bill.

The Department of Environment (DoE) will disappear.

The new departments with planning and built heritage responsibilities are:

  • Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA);

  • Infrastructure;

  • Justice; and

  • Communities.

The environmental functions transferring from D0E to DAERA will include regulation, but exclude the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s built heritage function.

The Department for Infrastructure will assume the existing functions of the current Department for Regional Development (DRD) as well as strategic planning from DoE, plus oversight of the Rivers Agency and inland waterways.

The new Department of Justice will take on responsibility for the Planning Appeals Commission.

Meanwhile the Department for Communities will cover the existing functions of the Department for Social Development and take on local government from DoE, including Built Heritage from the NI Environment Agency.

Michael Gordon, director of planning consultancy Turley’s Belfast office, commented: “After the generational change of 1 April 2015, when planning was repatriated in local government, the last thing we needed was macro change to the departments so hard on its heels.

“Planning going into Infrastructure is a positive statement of intent, particularly for regionally significant applications. The splitting of (NI) Environment Agency functions across two other departments is less helpful.

“There was a level of efficiency with planning and Environment Agency functions in one department under a single minister. We are concerned about efficient, joined up permitting on complex projects.

“The changes still mean that regeneration planning is separated out in a different department but the expectation is that this will be transferred to local government in the future,” he concluded.

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