New Planning Bill passed by NI Assembly
The long awaited Planning Bill was voted on and passed by the NI Assembly at the end of March, however the planning reforms cannot be fully implemented until the Local Government Reform proposals are also finalised and implemented.
The incoming administration needs to prioritise Planning and the LGR proposals in particular; sorting out the Council boundaries should be the priority of priorities.
The boundaries should be based on sound and sensible principles and not manipulated to make councils of equal size. It is natural that some Councils would be larger than others or that other differences between Councils would be seen, some are rural for instance whilst other will be urban dominated. The priorities for these will be different as will the planning policies they implement or their interpretation of regional planning policies.
It is also imperative that Belfast, which is constantly recognised as the economic driver of the region but which always seems to come out a little less well represented than it should be is recognised for the important role it plays and is made to include the urban areas of Newtownabbey, Lisburn, Castlereagh and North Down. Although this is unlikely to happen in our view.
The Royal Town Planning Institute has indicated, in an article carried in Planning magazine, that it feels the undecided LGR’s create uncertainty and that the main concern it has is in relation to Planning Service staff.
This view does not make any recognition the threat of uncertainty in the Planning system to the local economy and to inward investment which is of much greater importance to the people of the region.
The importance of the local economy is brought into stark reality because NI is dragging behind the rest of the UK in terms of its recovery, with house prices falling last year by the greatest level of any region of the UK. This should be coupled to the desire to 'rebalance' the local economy and it is clear that we have a long way to go and that a stable and efficient Planning Sytem has a lot it can offer in implementing these macro objectives.
The notion that planners “might leave their jobs” is unrealistic, does not reflect the type of person currently employed in Planning Service and completely misses the importance of the LGR's and the implementation of the Planning Bill in its entirety.