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Belfast Planning Service

Belfast City Local Development Plan (LDP) 2035: Timetable

Contents

1 Introduction
2 What is the Local Development Plan?
3 The Plan Preparation Process
Diagram: The Timetable Diagram
4 Delivery
5 Monitoring and Review
Appendix A: Risks Associated with the LDP Timetable

1 Introduction

1.1 On 1 April 2015, as part of local government reform, Belfast City Council assumed responsibility for a number of functions previously carried out by government departments, including statutory town planning responsibilities. Alongside this, Belfast’s district boundaries were expanded to take in around 53,000 additional residents, 21,000 households and 1,000 business premises from areas that were formally parts of Lisburn City Council, Castlereagh Borough Council and North Down Borough Council areas.  In addition, the reform programme also introduced new Community Planning responsibilities.
 
1.2 This marks the most significant change to the Northern Ireland (NI) planning system in over 40 years and presents the council with an unprecedented opportunity to address the development challenges within Belfast in a more co-ordinated way.  The council is therefore now commencing with the production of the Belfast City Local Development Plan (LDP) 2035, which will set out a clear vision for how the council area should look in the future by deciding what type and scale of development should be encouraged and where it should be located.
 
1.3 This Timetable sets out the key stages and indicative timescales in the process to produce the Belfast City LDP 2035. It is a public statement of the council’s programme for the production of the new plan and will help ensure that the plan process is efficiently managed and that the key stakeholders such as the consultation bodies and the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) are kept informed and can manage their own resources to facilitate their involvement in the LDP process.
 
1.4 It has been prepared in accordance with the advice set out in the Department’s Development Plan Practice Note 3: Timetable (April 2015) and fully meets the requirements of the Planning Act (NI) 2011 and the associated Planning (Local Development Plan) Regulations (NI) 2015. This requires the council to prepare this Timetable in consultation with key stakeholders such as the PAC, agree it with the Department and publicise the adoption of the Timetable prior to commencing work on the production of the LDP.
 
1.5     The Timetable was first approved by resolution of the council at its meeting on 4 April 2016 and was agreed with the Department prior to formal publication. Following the completion of the first key stage of the LDP process, being the preparation of the Preferred Options Paper and the subsequent consultation on the POP, the council agreed to review the LDP timetable. At its meeting on 4th December 2017, the council agreed to revise the timetable. This was agreed with the Department and published in April 2018. Following the completion of the next key stage of the LDP process, being the publication of the draft Plan Strategy in August 2018, the council agreed a further revision to the timetable. This was agreed with the Department in November 2018. 
 
1.6 The Draft Plan Strategy documentation was submitted to the Department in August 2019 as part of the Independent Examination (IE) process. Following its initial consideration, the Department appointed the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) to conduct an IE and all relevant documentation was submitted to the PAC in January 2020. A number of factors have impacted on the timetable, including the covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a delay in the potential IE process. As a result, the opportunity has been taken to further revise the timetable, following consultation with the PAC. This and any other future revisions to the timetable were delegated to officers by the City Council at its meeting in October 2019. This revised timetable was approved by the Department on 20 July 2020.

2 What is the Local Development Plan?

2.1     The Belfast City LDP 2035 will set out a clear vision for how the council area should look in the future by deciding what type and scale of development should be encouraged and where it should be located. It will inform the general public, statutory authorities, developers and other interested bodies of the policy framework and land use proposals that will implement the strategic objectives of the Regional Development Strategy (RDS) and other regional planning policies, and will guide development decisions within Belfast up to 2035.
 
2.2 In summary, The Belfast City LDP 2035 will:

  • Provide a 15 year plan framework to support economic and social needs in the city, in line with regional strategies and policies, while providing the delivery of sustainable development;
  • Facilitate growth by coordinating public and private investment to encourage development where it can be of most benefit to the wellbeing of the community;
  • Allocate sufficient land to meet the needs of the city;
  • Provide an opportunity for all stakeholders, including the public, to have a say about where and how development within the local area should take place;
  • Provide a plan-led framework for rational and consistent decision making by the public, private and community sectors and those affected by development proposals; and
  • Deliver the spatial aspects of The Belfast Agenda, the city's Community Plan.

2.3 The new LDP will comprise of two development plan documents:

  • Plan Strategy – The strategic policy framework for the plan area as a whole across a range of topics.  It will set out an ambitious but realistic vision for Belfast as well as the objectives and strategic policies required to deliver that vision. Establishing this strategic direction early in the plan process will provide a level of certainty on which to base key development decisions in the area as well as the necessary framework for the preparation of the Local Policies Plan; and
  • Local Policies Plan – The council’s local policies and site specific proposals in relation to the development and use of land in Belfast.  It will contain the local policies, including site specific proposals, designations and land use zonings required to deliver the council’s vision, objectives and strategic policies, as set out in the Plan Strategy.

2.4    Although the new LDP documents will be distinctive to Belfast, reflecting local circumstances and the challenges facing the council area, they should also ensure that the objectives are integrated with, add value to and assist in the delivery of national, regional and local policies and strategies within Northern Ireland, Belfast and other district councils.  There is also a statutory link between the new LDP and the council’s Community Plan, known as the Belfast Agenda.  It is intended that the LDP will be the spatial reflection of the Belfast Agenda and that the two plans should work in tandem towards the same vision for the area and its communities and the long term social, economic and environmental objectives.
 
2.5 Once adopted, this LDP will replace the current development plans for the district produced by the Department.  In Belfast the existing development plans comprise:

  • Draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) 2015 (see below); and
  • Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) Subject Plan for the Belfast City Council Area 2015 (adopted December 2008).

Although formally adopted in 2014, this process of final BMAP adoption was declared unlawful as a result of a judgement in the court of appeal delivered on 18 May 2017. This means the Belfast Urban Area Plan (BUAP) 2001, local plans for the harbour area and Lagan Valley Regional Park and parts of other adjoining development plans provide the statutory plan context for the area.

3 The Plan Preparation Process

3.1 Prior to work commencing on the production of the development plan documents, two key documents must be produced and agreed with the Department for Infrastructure (DfI).  They can be summarised as follows:

  • Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) – The SCI sets out how and when we will engage with the local community in both the preparation of planning policy and decisions around planning applications. It promotes a more meaningful and effective approach to enable interested parties and the local community to engage early in the plan process and throughout its preparation.

  • Timetable – This Timetable sets out the council’s programme for the production of the Plan Strategy and Local Policies Plan, including key milestones and timelines for plan production, covering all elements of the process through to adoption.

3.2 Alongside these documents, preliminary work towards the production of the LDP will involve the development of a comprehensive and reliable evidence base, which will include the commissioning of a  series  of  preparatory  studies,  that  will  help  inform  policy  development  and  help  justify  the ‘soundness’ of the LDP documents.   This evidence will provide the basis for the development of strategic policy options, the identification of preferred options for public consultation, the drafting of the two development plan documents, demonstrating the ‘soundness’ of the plan through the independent examinations and for the finalisation of the Plan Strategy and Local Policies Plan for adoption.
 
3.3 The key elements of this process are can be summarised as follows.

  • Preferred Options Paper (POP) – The publication of the POP represents the start of work on the LDP.  The POP is a consultation paper setting out the key plan issues and the preferred options available to address them. It seeks to promote debate on issues of strategic significance which are likely to influence the shape of future development within the city. Any representations or views received as a consequence of its publication will be considered whilst formulating the draft Plan Strategy and Local Policies Plan.

  • Draft Plan Strategy – The draft Plan Strategy is a public consultation document and is not the final plan. It is an indication of our intentions regarding the future development of the area and is a key part of the public participation process.   Following a formal 8 week period of public consultation, all representations received will be made available for public inspection for a further 8 week period.

  • Soundness Based Independent Examination – The purpose of the independent examination is to determine the soundness of the draft Plan Strategy, taking into account representations or counter representations. Following the examination, an Advisory Report of its findings will be issued to Central Government

  • Binding  Report  – Following the  independent  examination,  Central  Government  will  issue a binding report to the council, requiring us to adopt the draft Plan Strategy as originally prepared, or with modifications.

  • Adoption of the Plan Strategy – Once the required changes are made, the final Plan Strategy will be formally adopted and published by the council.  At this point, the Plan Strategy will become a principal consideration when determining future planning applications for development in the City.

  • Draft Local Policies Plan – The draft Local Policies Plan is a public consultation document.  It will be consistent with the adopted Plan Strategy and will be our detailed land use proposals regarding the future development of Belfast. This draft document is a key part of the public participation process.  As with the Plan Strategy, following a formal 8 week period of public consultation, all representations received will be made available for public inspection for a further 8 weeks.

  • Soundness Based Independent Examination – As with the Plan Strategy, the Local Policies Plan will also be subject to an independent examination to determine its soundness. Following the examination, an Advisory Report of its findings will be issued to Central Government.

  • Binding  Report  – Following the  independent  examination,  Central  Government  will  issue a binding report to the council, requiring us to adopt the Local Policies Plan as originally prepared, or with modifications.

  • Adoption of the Local Policies Plan – Once the required changes are made, the final Local Policies Plan Strategy will be formally adopted and published by the council.  The Plan Strategy and Local Policies Plan together will become the principal consideration when determining future planning applications for development in the City.

3.4 As part of the LDP preparation, the council is also required to carry out a number of assessments on the emerging development plan document proposals. These include:

  • Sustainability Appraisal (SA) – A tool for appraising policies to ensure they reflect sustainable development objectives (that is social, environmental and economic factors).  This is required in relation to both development plan documents and will involve consultation on the scope of the appraisal alongside the POP consultation.

  • Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) – A procedure to follow that contributes to the integration of environmental considerations in the preparation and adoption of plans and programmes. It will be undertaken in relation to both development plan documents as an integral part of the SA process above.  Prior to completing an SEA, an initial screening exercise will be undertaken at the POP stage to determine if the LDP requires a full SEA.

  • Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) – This considers the potential impact of LDP policies and proposals on European nature conservation sites. Prior to completing an HRA, an initial screening exercise will be undertaken at the POP stage to determine if the LDP requires a full HRA.

  • Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) – In line with the council’s Equality Scheme, an Equality Screening exercise will be undertaken at the POP stage to assess if the LDP is likely to have an impact on specific groups identified in Section75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.  If required, a full EqIA will be undertaken for both the Plan Strategy and the Local Policies Plan.  Views on any equality screening documents or draft EqIAs will also be sought as part of the formal consultation processes.

3.5 In most cases, these assessment processes will run in parallel with the preparation of the POP, the Plan Strategy and the Local Policies Plan. Relevant reports will be published at each of the key stages of the plan making process.
 
3.6 The Timetable diagram on the following page provides indicative dates for a number of the key stages in the production of the LDP.

Belfast Local Development Plan (LDP) 2035 Timetable
 

Key Stages

Notes on Proposed Process

Indicative Timescales

Data Collection

Publication of Statement of Community Involvement (SCI)

  • Final SCI to be submitted to Department for approval

April 2016

Publication of Timetable

  • Consult Statutory Stakeholders

  • Final Timetable to be submitted to Department for approval

May 2016

Preparation of evidence base to underpin production of Plan Strategy and Local Policies Plan

  • Commission specific, specialist studies required (e.g. Population and Housing Growth)

  • Internal Council consultation to develop evidence base and identify key issues

  • Identification of key issues in relation to specific themes for consultation with relevant statutory consultees and key stakeholders

  • Consult consultation body (DAERA) with Sustainability Appraisal (incorporating SEA) Scoping Report

June - December 2016

Informal consultation with Elected Members, statutory stakeholders and community representatives

Publication of Preferred Options Paper

  • 12 week public consultation
  • Publish Topic Papers and supporting evidence alongside POP, including appraisal of alternative options
  • Publication of Sustainability Appraisal (inc. SEA)
  • Interim Report Initial EqIA and HRA Screening

January - April 2017

Plan Strategy Consideration of responses to POP consultation, develop evidence base engagement with key stakeholders and drafting of policies
  • Preparation of Public Consultation Report
  • Informal consultation with key stakeholders
May 2017 - March 2018
Publication of Draft Plan Strategy
  • Publish for viewing (4 weeks)
  • 8 week statutory public consultation, followed by 8 week statutory consultation on representations
  • Publication of Sustainability Appraisal (inc. SEA) and Public Consultation Report
  • Publication of EqIA and HRA where required
August 2018 - spring 2019
Soundness Based Independent Examination
  • Submit dPS to DfI for IE
  • DfI remits dPS to PAC for IE
  • IE and subsequent PAC recommendations to DfI
  • DfI issues binding report to Council
August 2019 - April 2021
Adoption of Plan Strategy
  • Changes made to finalise Plan Strategy
  • Publication of final Sustainability Appraisal (inc. SEA) and Public Consultation Report
  • Publication of final EqIA and HRA where required
summer 2021*
Local Policies Plan Informal consultation with Elected Members and statutory stakeholders
  • Informal consultation with relevant statutory consultees and key stakeholders
  • Consult consultation body (DAERA) with Sustainability Appraisal (incorporating SEA) Scoping Report
Late 2019 - late 2021
Publication of Draft Local Policies Plan
  • Publish for viewing (4 weeks)
  • 8 week statutory public consultation, followed by 8 week statutory consultation on representations
  • Publication of final Sustainability Appraisal (inc. SEA) and Public Consultation Report
  • Publication of final EqIA and HRA where required
Early 2022
Soundness Based Independent Examination
  • Submit dLPP to DfI for IE
  • DfI remits dLPP to PAC for IE
  • IE and subsequent PAC recommendations to DfI
  • DfI issues binding report to Council
Late 2022
Adoption of Local Policies Plan
  • Changes made to finalise LPP
  • Publication of final Sustainability Appraisal (inc. SEA) and Public Consultation Report
  • Publication of final EqIA and HRA where required
Late 2023*
Monitor and Review

Monitoring and Review of LDP, including:

  • Annual Monitoring Reports
  • 5 and 10 year review (leading tocommencement of replacement Local Development Plan)
  • Advisory report to Central Government
  • Central Government Issues binding report to Council
Ongoing

*May require a longer period depending on changes required following Independent Examination.

 4 Delivery

4.1     Meeting the indicative timescales set out within the Timetable is dependent upon a number of factors, including effective governance arrangements, involvement of elected Members, adequate resourcing and the management of risk.
 
Governance

4.2  Set up a steering group comprising of council members, with the Chief Executive, the Director of Place and Economy or Planning Manager. This is a high-level co-ordinating body that will ensure overview and strategic input on behalf of the whole community, as well as from the planning professionals.
 
4.3     Alongside this, a project management team will also be set up comprising senior council officers, the Principal Planning Officer and invited representatives from the key statutory/government departments. The purpose of the team is to ensure key consultees are able to contribute to and co- operate in the plan making process.  The project management team will be consulted on, and act as an initial scoping group for the SA, including SEA.
 
Member Involvement

4.4     Progress on the Belfast City LDP 2035 will be reported to the council’s Planning Committee on a regular basis.  In addition, there are a number of critical dates for Members involvement:

  • Members of the Planning Committee will be involved in a series of thematic workshops at the outset of the process to help examine the core issues for consideration within the LDP and identify available options for inclusion within the Plan Strategy.  Informal workshops will then be held at appropriate stages with elected Members as the POP, Plan Strategy and Local Policies Plan are developed.
  • The Preferred Options Paper will be presented for Member agreement prior to the 12 week public consultation.
  • The findings from the public consultation exercise, including the Sustainability Appraisal Scoping (incorporating SEA Determination) and Equality Screening, will be presented to Members prior to publication of the Public Consultation Report.
  • The draft Plan Strategy will be presented for Member’s agreement prior to publication for a 8 week public consultation period.
  • Member’s authorisation will be sought following the consultation on the draft Plan Strategy to forward the Plan, with any representations, to the central Government to request an Independent Examination. Any counter representations will be forwarded after a further eight week public consultation period, following Member approval.
  • Member’s authorisation will be sought on whether to accept or rebut the representations and submissions made to the Independent Examination for the Plan Strategy by a date set out by the independent examiner appointed to conduct the inquiry.
  • Following  examination,  the  Binding  Report  from  central  Government  will  be  presented  to Members alongside the final Plan Strategy for adoption and publication.
  • The draft Local Policies Plan will be presented to Members for authorisation to publish for a formal 8 week public consultation period.
  • Member’s authorisation will be sought following consultation to forward the draft Local Policies Plan, with any representations, to central Government to request an Independent Examination. Any counter representations will be forwarded after a further eight week public consultation period, following Member approval.
  • Member’s authorisation will be sought on whether to accept or rebut the representations and submissions made to the Independent Examination for the Local Policies Plan by a date set out by the independent examiner appointed to conduct the inquiry.
  • Following the examination, the Binding Report from central government will be presented to Members alongside the final Local Policies Plan for adoption and publication.

Resourcing

4.5     The council has established a dedicated Local Development Plan team within the Belfast Planning Service, under the leadership of the Director of Place and Economy and the Development Planning and Policy Manager.     The LDP team will carry out policy writing, sustainability appraisal, equality appraisals, consultation and evidence collection predominantly in-house to reduce resource expenditure. Staffing resources from other parts of the council will also be used to produce documents and supporting evidence.
 
4.6     The team will be supplemented as required through the procurement of specialist advice and consultancy support where specific technical evidence, such as population growth projections or economic forecasting, is necessary.  The costs associated with preparing the LDP will continue to be provided as part of the council’s on-going financial planning processes.
 
Risks

4.7     The Timetable outlined within this document is challenging and there are a number of risks that could slow down the production of the LDP.  In order to manage risk, a Risk Register will be established for the project and risks identified managed in accordance with the council’s Risk Management Strategy. Appendix A sets out the key risks identified in relation to the overall project plan and proposed mitigation measures to be implemented in order to ensure that sound documents are prepared in a timely manner.
 
5 Monitoring and Review

5.1     An annual monitoring report will be produced by the council to inform Members and the Department on progress in meeting the Timetable and on the land availability for housing and employment.  If progress on plan production has slipped, the Timetable will need to be revised and agreed with the Department in accordance with the Development Plan Regulations.

Appendix A: Risks Associated with the LDP Timetable 

Issue Risk

Mitigating Action

Volume of work – LDP programme too ambitious The scale and uncertainty of the content new LDP presents potential risks to its deliverability.  Failure to deliver against the key milestones could be damaging to the council’s reputation and the absence of up to date planning policies will hamper the realisation of the council’s vision.

Robust scoping of work required.

Sound project planning with realistic and flexible timescales.

Careful monitoring of progress against programme objectives and re-prioritise as necessary.

Use of additional resources through corporate partnership working.

Competing work Priorities (e.g. emerging planning issues require interim policy response – i.e. Supplementary Planning Guidance) The council is involved in a wide range of spatial policy work that may require input from the LDP team. Additional work being identified on a particular development or the production of supplementary guidance to address emerging issues risks diverting staff time away from the LDP Programme.

Continued corporate commitment to adequately resourcing the LDP work.

The LDP will continue to be recognised as a high priority and it is recognised that at certain times other work may take a lower priority.

Robust management of staff resources and cross service and partnership working.

Lack of specialist resources Certain elements of the LDP will require specialist technical skills and there is a risk that some of this work cannot be progressed in house.  This could lead to delays to the LDP programme or could impact on quality & ‘soundness’ of planning documents.

Robust scoping of work to identify technical skills required.

Develop staff skills and competencies through training initiatives.

Close working with partners who have the necessary skills.

Use of external consultants to support LDP team.

Staff turnover The council is going through a period of transformation. Loss of experienced staff could impact on the production of LDP.

Ensure that sufficient staff resources with the necessary experience and expertise are available for the production of the LDP.

Recruit to vacant posts.

Financial resources Sufficient financial resources are required to prepare local development documents including for consultancy, consultation and the examination process. Ensure the LDP Timetable informs the council’s Short and Medium-Term Financial plan.
Consultation – i.e. the level of public interest causes delays The number and the nature of representations received during consultation are not predictable. It is possible that issues may arise in consultation that lead to longer response times by the council and longer examination and reporting time. 

The Timetable takes into account the likely time required to process responses to consultation.

Resources can be drawn from across the council if required at key stages to ensure representations are effectively processed.

Lack of capacity of statutory agencies to respond as part of engagement/ involvement activity. Given that a number of important place shaping functions are within the remit of government departments and agencies (e.g. transportation, housing, infrastructure, etc.) there will be a need for effective and timely involvement from key stakeholders to minimise the risk of delays to the programme.  Statutory agencies will need to be adequately resourced to ensure there is capacity to engage with and respond to multiple LDP preparation processes across the region.

The LDP Timetable provides forward notice of the council’s LDP programme to help inform resource requirements within statutory partners.

Front loading of engagement with statutory partners to ensure issues are identified and discussed at an early stage.
Maintain contact with key stakeholders to minimise prospect of slippage.

Need for effective and timely engagement raised at a regional level with Senior Officers.

Securing political consensus on elements of the LDP Belfast City Council has a broad range of political representation and there are likely to be divergences in views on some elements of the LDP, particularly when considering specific site allocations as part of the Local Policies Plan.  This could lead to delays in securing political support for all or elements of the LDP at key stages.

Sound project planning ensures key milestones outlined in the Timetable allow sufficient time to secure the necessary political consensus and approvals.

Cross-party political representation on the Project Steering Group to help aid political buy-in for proposals.
Project to allow for a wide variety of Member engagement throughout the LDP process, including workshops with Members at key stages, including Planning Committee and Area Working Groups

Regular reporting to committees and briefings for party leaders/party groups throughout LDP preparation process to build consensus.

Changes to regional policy, legislation or guidance during the preparation of the LDP Unforeseen changes in regional statutory or non-statutory policy guidance and advice could affect the content and direction of local policy preparation and decisions may cause delays LDP programme. Similarly, changes to planning legislation and/or subordinate regulations could introduce amendments to the plan making process, introducing new obligations and necessitating additional work. Unforeseen additional work may also be required as a result of new emerging evidence at a local or regional level.

The council will carefully monitor changes to regional policy and legislation and give priority to managing any impacts on the key milestones set out in the LDP Timetable.

Early and consistent engagement with central government and the PAC and ongoing legal advice from within the council in relation to the plan making process.

Delays associated with the public inquiry and subsequent Binding Report The timescales associated with the Soundness Based Independent Examination are beyond the control of the council and could vary considerably depending on the capacity of the Planning Appeals Commission, the scale and complexity of the LDP for Belfast or the level of public interest. This could result in prolonged timescales associated with both the holding of public examinations and the subsequent issuing of the Binding Reports.

The LDP Timetable provides forward notice of the council’s LDP programme to help inform resource requirements from DfI and PAC.

Prior notice will be given to the DfI and PAC/Independent Examiner of the request to hold a public examination.

Close liaison with the DfI/PAC to highlight any potential issues/problems at an early stage.

Tests of soundness There is a risk of the LDP documents being found unsound, which could result in major delays to the implementation of the policies or an inability to adopt the LDP.

Effective scoping of work and development of a robust evidence base to provide evidence to support the soundness of the LDP.

Continuous soundness self-assessment to be carried out throughout the process.

Consultation with DfI/PAC before and during publication of a development plan documents.

Legal challenge There may be a risk of legal challenge to the process undertaken for the production of the LDP. This could impact on work programme through the creation of additional work or delays to adoption. Ensure LDP production is compliant with planning legislation, regulations and guidance.

For more information or to request a copy of the Local Development Plan (LDP) 2035 Timetable (Revised July 2020) you can contact us by email planning@belfastcity.gov.uk or call us on 028 9050 0510.

Keeping in Touch

You can contact the council’s Planning Service in the following ways:

In writing to:

Belfast Planning Service
Belfast City Council
Cecil Ward Building
4-10 Linenhall Street
Belfast
BT2 8BP

By email: planning@belfastcity.gov.uk
By telephone: 028 9050 0510
Textphone: 028 9054 0642

Should you require a copy of this Local Development Plan Timetable in an alternative format, it can be made available on request in large print, audio format, DAISY or Braille and may be made available in minority languages to meet the needs of those for whom English is not their first language. Keeping you informed The Place and Economy Department has set up a database of persons/stakeholders with an interest in the Local Development Plan. Should you wish to have your details added to this database please contact the team in any of the ways listed above.

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