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Getting help with planning

A wide range of advice is available to help you get involved in the planning system as well as Information on how to get general planning advice and whether you need to appoint an agent or consultant.

The planning system

The planning system provides society with a way of controlling how we use land, what we build and where we build it. The Department of the Environment (DOE) prepares and adopts documents called development plans, consisting of maps and written policies, which show where and in what quantity various types of development will be permitted. DOE Planning also administers a development management system to make sure that proposed development conforms to the development plan, current planning policies and other material considerations.  

The development management system helps to balance our need for uses of land and buildings such as homes, offices, factories and schools with out wish to protect and improve the environment.  

Decisions on whether to allow proposals to build on land or change the use of buildings or land are made by DOE Planning. In determining whether, or not, to grant planning permission, DOE Planning will refer to a number of planning policy documents which include the:

  • Regional Development Strategy
  • Planning Policy Statements
  • Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland
  • Development Plans

It also uses supplementary planning guidance such as:

  • Development Management Advice Notes
  • Design Guides

Getting development management advice

If you have any queries about a particular proposal, the first thing to do is to contact DOE Planning. Contact details for local area planning offices can be found using the attached link:

It is your responsibility for seeking, or not seeking, planning permission. If required, planning permission should be granted before any work begins. If you are in any doubt about whether you need to apply for planning permission, you should consult DOE Planning immediately. They will advise you as best they can.

However, if you want to obtain a formal ruling you (or your adviser) can apply, on payment of a fee, for a Certificate of Lawful Use or Development, as to whether a particular proposal constitutes development and if it requires permission. You do this by completing the appropriate form with details of the work you want to carry out and sending it to DOE Planning. Application forms for Certificates of Lawful Use or Development can be downloaded using the attached link:

General development plan advice

Development Plans may be in the form of area plans, local plans or subject plans. They apply the regional policies of the Department at the appropriate local level. Development Plans inform the general public, statutory authorities, developers and other interested bodies of the policy framework and land use proposals that will guide development decisions within their local area. All Development Plans must conform with the Regional Development Strategy.

Role of Development Plans

Development Plans provide an essential framework for guiding investment by public, private and community sectors and help harness additional resources through collaboration in tackling problems. They also:

  • provide confidence for those wishing to develop and those affected by development proposals
  • establish a framework for positive co-ordination of public policies in joined-up government at both regional and local levels
  • provide an effective land supply phased and allocated to meet the full range of needs to support the life of the local community and social and economic progress
  • establish a process for involvement and ownership by local communities wishing to influence the future development of their area

The Department will monitor existing plans and assess the need for new or altered plans. The programme of plan preparation is kept under review. For enquires relating to Development Plans please contact DOE Planning.

Do I need to appoint an agent or consultant?

You are under no obligation to use an agent or planning consultant. However, if you are unfamiliar with the planning process in Northern Ireland, you may wish to consider appointing an agent or planning consultant to act on your behalf.

Information on planning consultants in Northern Ireland can be obtained by using the online directory of planning consultants, produced by Croner CCH in association with the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). The Directory allows you to search and identify the most appropriate planning consultant. A leaflet with details of consultants in your area is also available from the RTPI’s Planning Consultants Referral Service.

Community Places

Community Places is an independent organisation with full-time staff which offers advice on planning issues and project support for fully formed groups meeting Community Places eligibility criteria.

You can also contact them as follows:

Community Places
2 Downshire Place
Great Victoria Street
Belfast
BT2 7JQ

More useful links