Press Release

Planning Service 'Not Fit for Purpose' says Public Accounts Committee

Session: 2009/2010

Date: Thursday, 18 February 2010

Reference: PAC 09/09/10

The way that planning applications are processed by the Planning Service as one of its core functions, is not fit for purpose. That is one of the key findings emerging from the Report published today by the Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee, on “The Performance of the Planning Service”.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Paul Maskey MLA, Chairperson of the Committee, said: “In our review of the Planning Service, we found that it has consistently failed to meets its Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets for processing applications in a timely manner. Although there has been a recent improvement, it is still not as good as customers have a right to expect. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“Of particular concern to the Committee is the fact that performance in processing major applications continues to lag. In the current economic climate more than ever, Planning Service has a pivotal role to play in developing the economy and it must focus on strategic applications which can make a real difference to social and economic wellbeing. These vital applications are still not being handled quickly enough.”

The Committee also reviewed the flagship IT System (e-PIC), which was designed to allow electronic delivery of planning processes. It was told that the project was four years behind schedule and the anticipated capital costs were projected to be £12.8 million, some 130 percent above the original budget.

Mr Maskey concluded: “Failures in project management which result in capital costs that are more than double the original budget cannot be countenanced at any time. But in a climate of budget constraints this is particularly unsatisfactory.

“From the evidence before the Committee, it was no surprise to learn that there has been a significant decline in the Planning Service’s level of customer satisfaction. The current satisfaction rate of 32 per cent is simply unacceptable. Planning Service must, therefore, step up to the mark and demonstrate conclusively that it is changing its culture.”


Notes to Editors:
  1. The Report also shows that, in 2003, the Planning Service abandoned its basic indicator of efficiency, the unit cost of processing a planning application. Between 2003-04 and 2008-09, it was estimated that unit costs had risen by 59 per cent while the number of decisions per planner fell by 19 per cent.
  2. Standing Orders under Section 60(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 have provided for the establishment of the Public Accounts Committee (the Committee). The main statutory function of the Committee is to consider accounts and the reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland (C&AG) laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.
  3. The C&AG is head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) and is empowered to investigate any area of expenditure and has a statutory right of access to all files and papers in Departments and public bodies.

The PAC Committee members are:-


Mr Trevor Lunn

Democratic Unionist Party

Mr Jim Shannon 6
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr David Hilditch 7,10
Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson 3,4,5,9

Sinn Fein

Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson) 2
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin

Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr John Dallat
Mr Patsy McGlone 1,8

Ulster Unionist Party

Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)

Progressive Unionist Party

Ms Dawn Purvis

1 With effect from 04 March 2008 Mr Thomas Burns replaced Mr Patsy McGlone.
2 With effect from 20 May 2008 Mr Paul Maskey replaced Mr John O'Dowd.
3 With effect from 1 October 2007 Mr Mickey Brady replaced Mr Willie Clarke.
4 With effect from 21 January 2008 Mr Ian McCrea replaced Mr Mickey Brady.
5 With effect from Tuesday 27 May 08 Mr Jim Wells replaced Mr Ian McCrea.
6 With effect from Monday, 15 September 08 Mr Jim Shannon replaced Mr David Hilditch.
7 With effect from Monday, 15 September 08 Mr George Robinson replaced Mr Simon Hamilton.
8 With effect from 29 June 2009, Mr Patsy McGlone replaced Mr Thomas Burns.
9 with effect from 18 September 2009 Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson replaced Mr Jim Wells.
10 with effect from 18 September 2009 Mr David Hilditch replaced Mr George Robinson.

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