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The planning system and development management

The planning system is needed to manage development in your area. The Department of the Environment (DOE) is responsible for deciding whether a development, anything from an extension on a house to a new shopping centre, should go ahead.

The role of DOE Planning

DOE Planning develops and implements Government planning policies and development plans in Northern Ireland. Two Divisions with the Department carry out a range of activities, which promote the Government's key themes of sustainable development and creating a better environment. The aim of Planning is to plan and manage development in ways which will contribute to a quality environment and seek to meet the economic and social aspirations of present and future generations.

DOE Planning operates from its headquarters building in Belfast and local area offices across Northern Ireland.

Development Management

Most people only come into contact with the planning system when decisions have to be taken about whether something can be built in their area.

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 to grant planning permission, DOE Planning will refer to a number of planning policy documents and planning guidance.

Each application for planning permission is made to the relevant Local Area Planning Office. The application must include enough detail for DOE Planning to see what effect the development could have on the area.

DOE Planning should decide on your application within eight weeks. Large or complex applications may take longer, but DOE Planning should be able to give you an idea about the likely timetable. If your application is not determined within eight weeks, you can appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission.

Permitted Development

In some situations minor building work does not need planning permission, but you should always seek advice from your Local Area Planning Office before you start work. The basic aim of permitted development rights is to omit relatively minor development proposals from planning controls.

Some areas of land such as Conservation Areas have special protection against certain developments. Some buildings are also specially protected or listed because of their special architectural or historic interest. As there is a need to control any significant impact or even minor development in such areas permitted development rights maybe limited or withdrawn.

Permitted development rights can be amended or new ones established by changes in planning legislation. Over recent years there have been changes made to permitted development rights for both domestic and non domestic development. You can get more information in the links below:

Key Contacts in DOE Planning

DOE Planning headquarters is based in Causeway Exchange, Belfast, and deals with strategic planning issues.

Local Area Planning Offices are responsible for operational issues such as development management and enforcement and for preparing development plans.

You can visit the DOE Planning website for more guidance on the development management process and to help you decide whether you need planning permission and, if so, how to apply for it.

Planning reform

From April 2015, the responsibility for the majority of planning functions will transfer to local government. Further information is available at:

More useful links