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On 2 May 2023 Belfast City Council (‘BCC’) formally adopted the Belfast Local Development Plan – Plan Strategy (the ‘Plan Strategy’) as required by section 12 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.
The Plan Strategy contains a strategic policy framework that has been described by BCC as setting out “an ambitious but realistic vision for Belfast as well as the objectives and strategic policies required to deliver that vision” through to 2035. The Plan Strategy will have a significant impact upon how planning applications are assessed and determined within BCC.
The Plan Strategy will take effect from 2 May 2023 and going forward it will be the “principle consideration” to be used by BCC’s Planning Committee when determining planning applications. Previously, planning applications were determined using legacy plans and policies derived from the various departments who had oversight of planning powers prior to their transfer to local councils in April 2015.
Interestingly, it is not only planning applications submitted on or after 2 May that will be impacted by the introduction of the Plan Strategy. BCC has decided that some ongoing planning applications not yet determined prior to 2 May will have to be reassessed under the policies contained within the Plan Strategy. According to BCC, these will mainly be applications that “were to be determined subject to the prior completion of a Section 76 planning agreement or where delegated authority was given to officers to address other outstanding issues before a decision was to be made.” One major implication of this is that there will no doubt be a number of applicants with ongoing planning applications who may find themselves having to revisit parts of the planning application process which they may feel had already been sufficiently addressed, leading to potential delays and increased workloads for planning applicants, BCC staff and consultees alike.
It is worth nothing that BCC is not the first Council to have achieved this milestone, with Fermanagh & Omagh District Council being first past the post in March 2023. Though such news is clearly welcome, it still remains that, eight years after the transfer of planning powers, only two of the eleven Councils have reached this stage.
Whilst it must be recognised that there is a great deal of work involved in the drafting and approving of Local Development Plans, hopefully we will continue to see this number increase at pace through 2023 and 2024.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. For further information about any of the issues raised in this article, please feel free to get in touch with our Planning & Environment team.
This article was co-authored by Director, Brendan Martyn, and Trainee Solicitor, Edward Bergin.