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Muir welcomes Planning Review

Alliance Party MLA and Party Infrastructure Spokesperson Andrew Muir has welcomed the forthcoming review of Planning Legislation to be undertaken over the months ahead after the Assembly Infrastructure Committee discussed the terms of the review. He’s called for the review to be started without delay and result in swift changes to “enable more speedy decision making on Planning Applications”.

The review arises from a legal requirement inserted into the 2011 Act at Consideration Stage and should have taken place back in April 2018 but will now finally take place following the absence of an Executive over past three years. It’s hoped the review will be concluded by March 2021.

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “The 2011 Planning Act was the most significant piece of planning legislation enacted in decades resulting in major changes in how planning applications are determined transferring many powers from Central to Local Government in 2015. A number of years later it’s right that we review whether the objectives set in 2011 have been achieved and what opportunity there is to deliver a more fit for purpose system by retaining, amending or repealing any elements.

Fact that the average period of time taken to determine Major Applications during 2019/20 was 52.8 weeks compared to a target of 30 makes it clear why the review should look at ways to ensure we have a quicker planning system as was the objective back in 2011 coupled with news I recently obtained that statutory consultees only replied to 70% of Planning Application consultation requests within the statutory time limits during 2019/20

I am glad to have secured commitment from the Department for Infrastructure’s Director of Planning that enactment of both primary and subordinate legislation will be considered if the review finds a case for change. A quick desktop review without an appetite for change would be extremely disappointing and failure to grasp opportunity for a range of relatively simple but vital changes which enable more speedy decision making on Planning Applications as we struggle to rebuild our economy whilst protecting our environment.”

Some changes proposed by Andrew Muir MLA include “Requirement for applicants to demonstrate how they have altered their proposals in light of issues raised during pre-application process thereby ending right to developers to use the process as a mere tick box exercise which fails to properly consider views and concerns of local people. Putting Pre-Development Examination process pioneered by NI Water on a statutory footing. Creating in legislation ability for Planning Authorities to reject poor quality applications with applications only validated once confirmed to be of a sufficient standard. In light of the delays in getting planning decisions introduction of Processing Agreements plus Statutory Determination Deadlines for Major Applications and Regionally Significant Applications with financial penalties if consultation responses not returned within pre-defined timeframe.”

Concluding, Andrew Muir MLA stated “Desire for more significant changes such as introduction of Third Party Right of Appeal remain alongside need to overhaul painstakingly slow process associated with Local Development Plans, some of which I fear may never see the light of day after what I fear will be decades of process, delays and inevitable legal challenge.”