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

Session: 2009/2010

Date: 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.”

ENDS

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