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Redesigning planning in Northern Ireland will be tough, but it’s essential to growth

Stormont Belfast

A pan-Northern Ireland project to update technology in local authorities will transform the way people interact with the planning system, says Angus Kerr

Are planning departments equipped with the knowledge, skills and finance to make the most of new technology?

Northern Ireland has put this question front and centre of service improvements, with central and local government combining to address this challenge with a shared regional IT solution.

This innovative project will modernise digital infrastructure at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of digital submissions at many councils.

It was vital to procure a new shared IT system, not least because of the financial benefits, but also for most users, who will have one system with which to familiarise themselves.

In June 2020, Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure and 10 councils in the region, including Belfast, awarded a £14 million contract to a consortium of planning services. This combined the expertise of TerraQuest’s knowledge of planning service delivery, DEF Software’s userfriendly planning software solution and Planning Portal’s online planning application submission service.

The existing system was approaching the end of its life; it had served the former Department of Environment well when it was responsible for all planning powers.

“It was time to secure a new system that is modern, effective and better meeting customer needs”

But with each council wanting to focus on the customer journey and maximise the opportunities from a digital approach, it was time to secure a new system that is modern, effective and better meets customer needs. Northern Ireland handles 12,500 planning applications and administers more than 32,000 regional property certificates annually.

The system will put online and paperless submissions at the heart of the business model, which will represent a more efficient and userfriendly system, which is better for the environment as well as creating back-office efficiencies for the department of infrastructure and local councils. It will also help to support flexible working, which has been a challenge during Covid-19.

The system is expected to go live early next year and will create a step change in how planning applications are submitted and processed across Northern Ireland. It will provide all parties interested in the planning process with a much easier way to interact with the system and improve access to documents at a time and place convenient to the user.

Angus Kerr is chief planner for Northern Ireland and Ed Baker is planning manager with Belfast City Council

Image credit | Shutterstock


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