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Council announces plans to reform planning service

4 Jan 2018
Belfast City Council will be reforming its Planning Service with a renewed focus on how it communicates with its various customer groups following recommendations in a report it commissioned by Scotland’s former Chief Planner, Jim Mackinnon CBE. The move follows broad consultation with a number of stakeholder groups and approval at last night’s full Council meeting.

Chair of the Planning Committee, Councillor Donal Lyons, said:

“As Belfast continues to experience an unprecedented level of growth; the new measures have been designed to improve both the quality and speed of the application process in a way which balances the benefits to householders, private industry and wider community.

“New recommendations will be introduced as well as a Customer Charter with ten operating principles to reduce back-logs in the planning application system, speed up transactions and ensure the service is faster, better and more engaging. It will also help support the delivery of Council’s 20-year strategy, the Belfast Agenda.”

The new customer service charter will be built upon the following commitments to ensure

• Customers have the right information in support of an application before submitting it;
• Consultations with the right people take place at the beginning of the process and follow correct consultation procedures;
• Site visits happen as soon as are practically possible; no later than 21 days after an application is valid;
• Customer requirements are fully understood and needs are met, such as timescales for projects;
• The ‘path’ of an application is determined as soon as possible, whether it will be approved, refused or changes needed;
• Customers know our views on their application; and opportunity should be given to address problems as soon as possible, where there is a solution;
• A Pre-Application Discussion service is provided to identify issues at the beginning of the process and before the application is made;
• Unacceptable applications will be determined as quickly as possible in the interests of the efficiency of the overall service;
• Where there is an obligation to take account of the advice from technical consultees, there will be a proportionate approach to the handling of each planning application; and
• Work will be kept moving at all times with an understanding that any blockage in the process will cause delays

This will be supported by a series of internal measures to implement a more focused service improvement plan that will see the introduction of staff training and development programmes, a closer integration of the work of Planning and Building Control, improved operation of the development management process including the appointment of a dedicated road engineer and increasing the number of officers authorised to sign reports, among other initiatives.

The work will be taken forward by the Planning Committee and a new senior management team, including a Director of Planning and Building Control which is currently going through the appointment process as part of a wider organisational change plan. Details will be announced in due course. Mr Mackinnon will continue to act in an expert advisory capacity to help move the service forward.

He said:

“I am confident the adoption of these recommendations and principles will see a step change in the quality of the development management service in Belfast City. For households, we would expect to see a significant improvement in the efficiency with which planning applications are dealt with while the development industry will have greater certainty on outcomes. The Council is also looking to improve the quality of its engagement with communities affected by planning proposals.”
Belfast skyline from City Hall