Committee to challenge Department on timing of New Planning Laws

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 28 February 2011

Reference: ENV 10/10/11

The Assembly Committee for the Environment released its report on the Planning Bill today. The Bill sets out new procedures for dealing with planning applications, planning appeals and fines for breaches of planning law.

One of the main changes the new Bill will introduce is that local councils will again be responsible for deciding whether to grant planning permission. Currently it is Planning Service - an agency of the Department of the Environment - which makes the decision.

Committee Chairperson, Cathal Boylan MLA said: “The Committee is very supportive of giving local councils the responsibility for approving planning applications in their area and welcomes the Department’s commitment that the process will be fully resourced and all guidelines and subordinate legislation drafted in conjunction with councils. However, we are concerned that this law is coming into effect before the Department has completed its review of local government. For this reason the Committee is recommending that the delegation of planning decisions to councils is not made law until the Department’s review of local government has taken place. This issue will be debated by the Assembly next week.

“While the Planning Bill will give responsibility for planning decisions back to councils, it is the review of local government and an associated local government reform bill that will set out the roles and responsibilities of councils and Councillors. Most importantly it will set out what procedures councils should follow when making decisions.

“The Committee welcomed an assurance from the Minister that implementation of the Planning Bill and the review of local government would take place at the same time. However, this will be in the control of a new government so the Committee would like to see an amendment to the Bill that will ensure that the Assembly decides when planning functions pass back to councils.”

“The Committee believes this is essential so that the Assembly can ensure proper governance arrangements are in place in councils before they are given back responsibility for making decisions on planning applications. It is very important that councils and Councillors have clear guidance on how they make decisions to ensure all decisions are fair and cannot be influenced by outside factors.” 

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