Durkan announces improvements to speed up planning process

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan today announced improvements to speed up the planning process in Northern Ireland. 

In October last year, the Minister decided not to move the Planning Bill to further consideration stage but emphasised his commitment to driving forward reform to speed up the planning system.
In a keynote speech at the Planning Forum today Mark H Durkan announced:
• Shorter and simplified policy. At present there are twenty separate planning policy publications. This will be reduced to one single Strategic Planning Policy Statement. Consultation on this should issue later this month.
• Intense, pre-application discussions, and widespread involvement of community in discussions, thus ensuring planning decisions can be taken much quicker.
• Promptly refusing planning applications that are substandard. This will unclog much time spent on trying to upgrade substandard applications.
• Action to ensure faster responses from consultees. This includes “Backlog Blitzes” to clear outstanding consultations in NIEA. Also new arrangements for future consultations in NIEA, such as a ‘planning control team’, a single point of contact for consultations and new protocols for processing consultations. 
• Much greater access to planning case officers.
Mark H Durkan said: “My aim is to create a planning system that is fast, fair and fit for purpose. A system which is less complex, more effective, more efficient and more customer focused.
“ A system that delivers for business, with timely decisions that bring investment and jobs but not at the expense of our environment, planet or people.
“A system which realises that the environment and the economy should not, and cannot be, at loggerheads. A system that fully recognises that a vibrant, sustainable environment can be a driver of prosperity and job creation”.
“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. 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. ”
Minister Durkan also encouraged all stakeholders to play their part in delivering the new system. In particular he encouraged applicants to submit good applications informed by pre application discussions and pre application community consultation. 
The Minister said: “I encourage applicants and developers to work with planners in ensuring quality, soundly based applications are submitted. In return, they can expect quicker decisions. Better performance based on better, comprehensive and complete applications is the way forward. “ 
Notes to editors:
1. The Minister’s announcement was made today at 2pm at an extraordinary meeting of the Planning Forum at The MAC, St Anne’s Square, Belfast.
2. The Planning Forum is made up of key stakeholders in the planning system, including representatives from the development industry, professional bodies, environmental and community sectors and academia.
3. In October 2013 Minister Durkan made a statement to the Assembly setting out the legal, procedural and evidential reasons for his decision not to move the Planning Bill to Further Consideration stage. In that statement the Minister emphasised his commitment to driving forward reform of the planning system including the transfer of the bulk of planning powers to councils. 
4. Implementation of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 will see the bulk of planning powers transfer to councils in April 2015. The new 11 councils will be responsible for drawing up their own development plans, making the majority of planning decisions and shaping how their areas will grow and develop.
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