05/12/2008

Plans To Speed Up NI Planning Service

Stormont Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has announced provisions aimed at tackling the backlog in the province's planning service.

Mr Wilson said a streamlined scheme could be rolled out across all council areas by next Spring.

The Minister said a streamlined scheme, already operating in Derry, Limavady, Ballymoney and Banbridge, had dramatically slashed the time it took to process non-controversial planning applications.

Armagh Council will launch the scheme this week, with 15 more council areas expected to follow by the New Year.

Minister Wilson said: "The Streamlined Consultation Scheme agreed with local councils is a very positive key short-term planning reform initiative which was successfully introduced as a pilot scheme in partnership with Derry City Council.

"Overall the scheme has had a very positive impact on the timescale for processing non-contentious applications with about 20% of decisions issued within 16-20 working days and 70% issued within 28 days.

"This compares very favourably with the previous average processing time of 89 working days.

"We have had very positive feedback from agents consulted on the pilot scheme, with an overall 85% satisfaction rating."
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In the areas operating the scheme, councils have agreed to allow approvals for non-contentious planning applications to be issued without including them on the schedule for discussion at the monthly meeting of their council planning committees.

Councils are consulted on a weekly basis immediately after the application is received and have been given an agreed three week period to respond to the Planning Service.

Among the non-contentious planning applications that have been approved under the streamlined scheme were extensions and alterations to dwellings, temporary classrooms, shop fronts, farm building, advertisements.

An approval can only be issued if no objections have been received from third parties and there has been no formal request from the council to discuss the application at its planning committee.

Mr Wilson said: "These new forward thinking consultation arrangements are very encouraging and will help deliver a more efficient and effective planning system in line with the Northern Ireland Executive’s overall aim.

"It is particularly beneficial to householder applicants and the economy through small/medium sized business enterprises.

"I look forward to the continuing support from all stakeholders in the Planning System in taking forward these innovative proposals”.

The Minister said he was encouraged by the discussions with remaining councils who have yet to operate the scheme.

He added: "I very much hope all councils will be operating the scheme with the Planning Service by 31 March 2009 for the benefit of the whole community and the economy."

(PR)

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