The planning system - how a decision is reached

The planning system manages built development and balances competing economic, environmental and social needs to reach decisions. Local council planning offices make decisions about most planning applications.

How planning decisions are made

The development management system balances the use of land and buildings for homes, offices, factories and schools with the need to protect and improve the environment.

Each council decides to grant or refuse planning proposals in their local area:

  • to build on land
  • to change the use of buildings or land

When assessing a planning proposal, the council considers various factors including:

  • Regional Development Strategy (RDS) for Northern Ireland 2025
  • planning policy 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
  • government strategies and policy documents

Taking part in the planning system

Applicant

The applicant is a person or organisation making a planning proposal to their local council. They pay a planning application fee to the council.  If possible, an applicant should discuss their ideas early with neighbours who might be affected.

If their planning proposal is approved, the applicant gets planning permission. They must obey any conditions attached when they build property or develop a site.

If their planning proposal is refused or approved with conditions, they can appeal a refusal or planning conditions.  

Agent

An applicant can employ an agent to prepare and send their planning application. An applicant doesn't need to employ an agent. 

Council

The council receives and processes local and major planning applications for their area . They advertise applications. They take account of all  public comments or representations they receive about an application. 

Seeking advice

The council employs  planning officers to advise them in preparing Development Plans and making decisions on individual planning applications. They have local knowledge about planning in the area. If you aren't sure about whether you need  planning permission, contact your local planning office. 

Other organisations

The council consults organisations that are responsible for the environment, roads and water. 

Planning application examples

Planning applications include:

  • new buildings
  • changing the use of land or buildings
  • extensions to dwellings
  • housing developments
  • sand pits extracting millions of tonnes of sand

Depending on your planning proposal, you need to  give detailed information supporting your application.  

Processing a planning application

When the council receives a planning application, they:

  • validate the application 
  • send copies to experts
  • advertise in local newspapers
  • write to neighbours and people living close to the land or development site

Planning application are published on the Planning NI portal.

Planning case officer

A case officer in the council deals with your planning application. They carry out site inspections and can meet you and other interested parties to resolve problems.  

The case officer prepares a report which includes planning issues relevant to your application and any consultations.

Development Management Group meeting

Development Management Group discusses the report at their monthly meeting, chaired by an authorised officer.

Once work on the planning application is complete, including a site inspection and consideration by the Development Management Group, an opinion on the application is formed.  

Scheme of delegation

Each council has a Scheme of Delegation which sets out:

  • types of planning applications to be delegated to a planning officer for a decision
  • types of planning applications to be presented to the Council Planning Committee for a decision

Councils issue delegated decisions made by planning offices every week.

Planning Committee

When the local council planning office is responsible for determing planning applications, the council:

  • prepares a report
  • discusses the applications at the monthly Planning Committee meeting

The report recommends approval or refusal for the proposed development. But the Planning Committee is responsible for granting or refusing planning permission. 

The council should make a decision on your application within eight weeks. But it can take longer to decide large or complex applications. The local planning office can tell you more about timetables. If your application isn't determined within eight weeks, you can appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission.

Planning appeals

If the council refuses a planning application or grants permission only under certain conditions, the applicant can appeal the decision to the Planning Appeals Commission.

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