Report on the Planning Bill (NIA 17/11-15)

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 06 June 2013

Reference: (NIA 17/11-15)

Mandate Number: 2011/15

Report on the Planning Bill (NIA 17/11-15) (752 pages) (19.33 mb)

Executive Summary

1. This report sets out the Committee for the Environment’s consideration of the Planning Bill.

2. The Bill contains 28 clauses. Its key objective is to bring forward the implementation of a number of planning reforms contained within the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 (“the2011 Act”) before the majority of planning powers transfer to local government in 2015.

3. The Committee has considered each of the reforms contained in the 2011 Act whose implementation the Planning Bill makes provision for accelerating. The Committee is satisfied that it is right to accelerate the introduction of each of these reforms. Bringing forward these reforms not only means allowing them to become understood and established in advance ofthe transfer of powers but also that the benefits of them can be realised sooner.

4. In addition, the Bill makes provision for the introduction of two new reforms which were not contained within the 2011 Act. These additional provisions are intended to underpin the role of planning in promoting economic development. The first (clause 2) provides for the Department of the Environment (and the Planning Appeals Commission) when exercising particular functions to do so with a new objective of promoting economic development (alongside the objectives of furthering sustainable development and promoting or improving well-being). The second (clause 6) provides that material considerations in the determination of planning applications includes a reference to considerations relating to any economic advantages or disadvantages likely to result in granting or refusing planning permission

5. The Committee has given particular consideration to these two new reforms as many of those who responded to the Committee’s call for evidence on the Bill were very concerned about them. They were worried that clauses 2 and 6 provided for economic considerations to begiven greater weight than other considerations within planning policy and when determining individual planning applications.

6. The Committee is satisfied, having taken legal advice on the issue, that this is not the case. It is right that the planning system should promote economic development but it must do so while also promoting sustainable development and improving well-being. Creating astatutory objective of promoting economic development does not diminish the other statutory objectives which the Department has when exercising its planning functions. Equally, providing a statutory basis for economic considerations to be material considerations in no way limits the other considerations which may be material when determining planning applications.

7. The Department has informed the Committee that it is its intention to bring forward a new single Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) and to have it in place in time for the transfer of planning powers to councils. The purpose of this statement is to provide a  comprehensive consolidation of planning policy.

8. The SPPS will incorporate a shorter, clearer and more focused regional planning policy; it shall incorporate a collation of policies in one document and will make regional policy more accessible and intelligible. The Department intends to consult on a draft version of the SPPS later this year, with a view to publishing it in final form in 2014.

9. It is through the single SPSS that that the Department shall address how economic considerations are to be taken into account along with the other considerations that pertain to the planning system.

10. The Committee acknowledges the concerns sincerely held by many of those who responded to its call for evidence. Although the Committee is satisfied that these concerns are unsubstantiated it believes nonetheless that there would be value in undertaking a review ofthe impact of clauses 2 and 6 within three years of their provisions coming into effect.

11. These recommendations, and a number of other recommendations arising from the Committee’s consideration of the Planning Bill, are set out overleaf.

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