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Level-up planning in Northern Ireland, say CBI

CBI Northern Ireland has published a new report proposing a shake-up of major planning processes. With a particular emphasis on projects of regional significance, the report sets out a series of recommendations to both streamline the planning process and establish a new framework for more effective delivery of strategic infrastructure projects in the longer term.

Developed in partnership with Jim MacKinnon CBE, Scotland’s former Chief Planner, the recommendations include the introduction of statutory timeframes for determinations, the use of processing agreements, and the development of a streamlined process for projects of regional significance.

The Recommendations

Streamlining the process

  • Pre-application clarity: The pre-application discussion process should be strengthened for regionally significant applications and major planning applications.
  • Pre-application community consultation: The 12 week process for major and regionally significant planning applications should be reduced to 8 weeks where applicants have demonstrated that “meaningful engagement” with the community can be delivered through digital channels – alongside the existing statutory public event.
  • Processing agreements: A timetable for processing applications should be agreed prior to a regionally significant planning application being submitted. This should be in the form of a processing agreement to which all relevant parties are co-signatories.
  • Statutory timeframes: Statutory timeframes for determining regionally significant and major applications should be introduced, with the potential for introducing fines payable to the applicant where mandatory periods are not met in reaching a determination. Consideration should also be given to introducing statutory timeframes for responses from departments and their agencies acting as planning consultees.
  • Notices of opinion: There should be a strong presumption against the using of Notices of Opinion, with all regionally significant and called-in applications sent directly to the Planning Appeals Commission for independent examination.

A framework for delivery to 2050 – establishing and independent infrastructure commission:

  • Northern Ireland is currently the only administration in the UK and Ireland not to have a long-term infrastructure strategy or framework.
  • While the establishment of an Infrastructure Panel with a remit to examine the value in an Infrastructure Commission for Northern Ireland is welcome, the Northern Ireland Executive needs to inject long-term strategic planning into its core decision making.
  • To achieve long-term goals, NI urgently needs an independent body that can develop an objective, expert-led, 30-year infrastructure strategy and can oversee the streamlining of planning processes to fast-track delivery.

Further detail on the recommendations above can be found in the full report, available: https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/an-opportunity-to-level-up-planning-a-review-of-major-planning-processes-in-northern-ireland-1/ 

Commenting on the launch of the report, CBI NI Director Angela McGowan said:  “There’s growing recognition around the world that investment in strategic infrastructure can play a significant role in turbo-charging post-COVID recovery. Not only can it create jobs and lay the foundations for our net-zero future, but it can also help us bridge to the fairer, more regionally balanced and inclusive economy the people of Northern Ireland want.

“While the benefits of investment are clear, the ability to deliver remains a challenge. Among many challenges, one of the biggest stumbling blocks remains Northern Ireland’s complex and burdensome planning process. However, with the statutory review of the Planning Act 2011 now underway, and the Ministerial Panel on Infrastructure delivering its findings in recent weeks, we have a golden opportunity to level-up the planning process.

“As we head into a prolonged period of economic uncertainty, we must seize this opportunity to build back better from the COVID crisis – that means implementing necessary reforms immediately to unlock growth. Firm and committed leadership from policymakers across our political spectrum will be needed to turn opportunity into sustained delivery.”