The planning system and development management

The planning system makes sure the right things are built in the right places, be it houses, shops, parks, community centres, energy plants. But it is also about the ability to shape and change the character, look and feel of the places where we live, work or visit. Responsibility for the planning system is shared between the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and local councils.

The role of DFI Planning

DFI is responsible for:

  • determination of regionally significant planning applications – those applications of significance to the whole, or a substantial part, of Northern Ireland
  • review, monitoring and implementation of the Regional Development Strategy (RDS) 2035
  • setting regional planning policy
  • making planning legislation
  • oversight and guidance for councils, including the power to ‘call-in’ and make the decision on an application that has been submitted to a council
  • provide support to the local councils to monitor performance management and bring forward continuous improvement initiatives
  • taking forward work flowing from the Reinvestment & Reform Initiative specifically in relation to Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast and St. Lucia Barracks, Omagh.

DFI Planning mainly operates from Causeway Exchange, Belfast.  However, the Chief Planner’s office is located in Ebrington Square, Derry/Londonderry.

The role of Councils

The 11 councils are responsible for:

  • local development planning – creating a plan which will set out how the council area should look in the future by deciding what type and scale of development should be encouraged and where it should be located
  • development management – determining the vast majority of planning applications
  • planning enforcement – investigating alleged breaches of planning control and determining what action should be taken

Each council has its own local planning office to deliver planning services to the council area:

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.

The majority of decisions on whether to allow proposals to build on land or change the use of buildings or land are made by local councils. In determining whether to grant planning permission, the council will refer to a number of planning policy documents and planning guidance.

Each application for planning permission is made to the relevant local council’s planning office or the Department for Infrastructure (DFI) in the case of Regionally Significant Developments. The application must include enough detail for the council/department to see what effect the development could have on the area.

Applications submitted to the local council should have a decision issued within eight weeks. Large or complex applications may take longer, but your local planning office 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 council’s 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 visit the Planning NI 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.

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