The planning system - how a decision is reached

A planning system is needed to manage development in your area and balance competing economic, environment and social needs in a way that best represents public interest.

How planning decisions are made

The development management system helps to balance the need for uses of land and buildings such as homes, offices, factories and schools with the 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 local councils. 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 (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
  • Other government strategies and policy documents

Who does what in the planning system?

The applicant

The applicant is a person or organisation putting forward the proposal. They are also responsible for paying the right fee for the application. It is usually advisable for applicants to discuss their ideas informally at an early stage with any potentially affected neighbours.

The applicant is responsible for implementing the project in line with the planning permission and any conditions attached to it by the council. Applicants also decide, with the help of any advisers they may have, whether to appeal against a refusal of planning permission or conditions attached to a planning approval.

The agent

The agent is the person or organisation who is employed by the applicant to make the application. The applicant does not need to employ an agent. It is the applicant's decision to use one or not.

Local Councils

The council receives the application and places it on a register, available for public inspection. It publicises the application and begins to process it, taking due account of all comments or representations received

Other organisations

The council consults widely with organisations that have special expertise, such as the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, TransportNI and Northern Ireland Water Limited.

Seeking advice

The council employs professional planning officers to advise them in preparing Development Plans and making decisions on individual planning applications. These officers are an important source of local knowledge and advice, and should be your first point of contact. If you are in any doubt about whether you need to apply for planning permission, then you should talk to your local planning office immediately.

How do I apply for Planning Permission?

The nature of development proposals varies greatly from extensions to dwellings to housing developments or sand pits extracting millions of tonnes of sand. Depending on the nature of your proposal, you will be asked to give detailed information in support of it. The more complex the proposal, the more detailed the information required. You can find more information in the planning permission section:

Processing a Planning Application

There are a number of steps that must be taken to process a planning application.

Once a planning application has been submitted it is validated, copies are sent to key consultees such as Transport NI (formerly known as Roads Service) and Northern Ireland Water, an advertisement is placed in the local press and neighbours are notified.

Details of the planning application are also published on the Planning NI website. For more information, please use the link below:

The case officer is the person allocated to deal with the application and they will be your main point of contact in regards to this. They will carry out site inspections and meet with the applicant and other interested parties to try and resolve any problems.

The case officer will prepare a report on the main planning issues relevant to the case and any consultations. This will then be discussed at the monthly Development Management Group meetings 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.  

Each council will publish a Scheme of Delegation which sets out which types of planning applications are delegated to planning officers to decide and which will be presented to the Council Planning Committee for decision. The decisions on applications delegated to planning officers will issue once the opinion on the application is formed. 

For those applications determined by the Council's Planning Committee, a report will be prepared and the application discussed at the monthly committee meetings. The report will contain a recommendation on whether to approve or refuse the proposed development but the decision to grant or refuse planning permission is the responsibility of the Planning Committee.

The council should make a decision on your application within eight weeks. Large or complex applications may take longer. 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.

Planning Appeals

If the council refuses an application for planning permission or grants permission, but only under certain conditions which the applicant finds unacceptable, the applicant can make an appeal and have the matter determined by the Planning Appeals Commission.

You can find more information in the Planning Appeals section:

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