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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 land is used, what is built and where it is built. Each council 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. The council 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 the need for uses of land and buildings such as homes, offices, factories and schools with our 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 your local council.  The range of factors that the council take into account in determining any individual application is, in practice, very wide and can vary from application to application and can include:

  • The Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025
  • DOE Planning Policy Statements and guidance
  • Development Plans
  • Consultation responses
  • Third party correspondence
  • Site visits
  • Material considerations – genuine planning considerations which must be related to the purpose of planning legislation
  • Other government strategies and policy documents

Getting development management advice

If you have any queries about a particular proposal, the first thing to do is to contact your local council. 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 talk to your local planning office immediately. They will advise you as best they can.

However, if you want to get 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 form with details of the work you want to carry out and sending it to your local council. Application forms for Certificates of Lawful Use or Development can be downloaded from the NI Planning website:

General development plan advice

Development Plans set out how an area should look in the future by deciding what type and scale of development should be encouraged and where it should be located. They tell 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.

Through the development plan, councils should be able to identify the best locations for new homes, businesses and infrastructure while also protecting places of value to people or wildlife. The plans are an important consideration in dealing with planning applications and should help guide decision making.

They also:

  • give confidence for those wishing to develop and those affected by development proposals
  • give general and specific land allocations to meet the full range of needs to support the life of the local community and social and economic progress
  • set up a process for involvement and ownership by local communities wishing to influence the future development of their area

Councils are required to regularly and effectively monitor and review their plans to ensure that they are as flexible and responsive to change as possible. Councils will prepare an annual monitoring report and are required to review implementation of the plan at least every five years and make alterations and adjustments to the plan as required.

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 for you.

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 suitable 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

More useful links