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Consultation on simplified Northern Ireland planning policy due this month

A consultation to create one single Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland (NI) will be launched later this month NI Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has announced. 

During a keynote speech at a Planning Forum meeting last week Durkan said that a shorter and simplified policy would be created by reducing the existing twenty planning policy publications applying in NI to one single policy statement.

Proposed measures to speed up the planning system include "intense" pre-application discussions with widespread community involvement to ensure planning decisions can be taken quicker.

Planning applications that are "substandard" will be "promptly refused" rather than spending time trying to upgrade them. Measures will be introduced to ensure faster responses from consultees and a 'planning control team' will be created to form a single point of contact for consultations. Applicants will also be given "much greater access" to planning case officers under the proposals.

The announcement follows Durkan's withdrawal in October of the Planning Bill which had been introduced to the NI Assembly in January last year. The withdrawal happened as a result of concerns that the Bill could run counter to the European Convention on Human Rights. At the same time Durkan emphasised his commitment to driving forward reform of the planning system, including the transfer of the bulk of planning powers to councils.  

“My aim is to create a planning system that is fast, fair and fit for purpose," said Durkan. "A system which is less complex, more effective, more efficient and more customer focused."

“As I listen to councils, businesses, communities, environment groups, one of the issues I hear most is the need for greater certainty. Certainty in terms of the timescales for processing applications to decision, be it a yes or no; certainty of the policy context so stakeholders will know what is likely to be acceptable or unacceptable; certainty that the views of local communities will be sought and considered in a meaningful way and certainty that the planning system that we transfer to councils in 2015 will be fair and fit for purpose," Durkan said.

"I believe these measures individually and collectively will deliver this certainty for the benefit of all users of the planning system. These measures provide a real opportunity to speed up decision making and enhance community involvement. And it paves the way for the seamless transfer of powers to councils in 2015. My vision is for a better environment and a stronger economy. These actions will help do that,” he added.

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