On 27 March 2020, in response to the unprecedented situation with COVID-19, the Chief Planner issued helpful advice relating to the implications for the planning process in Northern Ireland.
The key takeaways of that advice are as follows:
- DfI Strategic Planning Directorate will continue to deal with its current range of cases, albeit at a reduced capacity, due to staff having to work remotely. DfI planning casework includes regionally significant applications and called-in applications.
- With regards to decision making, Councils are encouraged to explore every opportunity to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can proceed and to work proactively with applicants, consultees and others, where necessary agreeing extended periods for making decisions.
- In the absence of certainty surrounding Planning Committee meetings due to the pandemic, Councils may wish to consider amending their planning schemes of delegation and DfI have committed to responding quickly to any proposed amendments. Councils are also encouraged to explore whether there can be greater delegation of applications to officers under the Local Government Act (NI) 2014.
- Councils’ enforcement powers should not be used as a barrier to essential deliveries and takeaway services operated by food retailers and distributors as well as the freight industry over the period of disruption caused by the Coronavirus.
- In relation to Pre-application Community Consultation (‘PACC’) and the requirement for a public event, the Department has clarified that in light of the current crisis, they propose to amend The Planning (Development Management) Regulations (NI) 2015 to remove that requirement. However, in order to continue PACC and to ensure the benefits to communities are maintained, Councils will be expected to specify additional steps for developers to consult the public such as advertising online and seeking written feedback.
- In the short-term, with regards to advertising and neighbour notification requirements, DfI do not intend to bring forward any proposals to amend the current statutory requirements however this shall be kept under review.
- In relation to planning permissions nearing the end of the period for commencement of development, DfI have recognised that during the current crisis developers may not be able to field sufficient workers to start on site. In order to address this issue, DfI are considering the potential for legislative change, however in the meantime they have requested that applications which are submitted for the renewal of planning permission should be validated, processed and determined as expeditiously as possible by planning authorities.
- Notifications should continue to be submitted to DfI by Councils and DfI will aim to respond within the statutory time frame of 28 days. However, DfI may use Directions to extend the statutory timeframe for notifications when it is considered appropriate to do so in the circumstances. All notifications should be submitted by email to: email@example.com
- The offices of the Planning Appeals Commission (‘PAC’) are closed due to the current crisis and all arrangements for both the submission of evidence and proceedings have been suspended. However, all new appeal submissions must be made electronically through the PAC website. Statutory time limits for the submission of new appeals during COVID-19 emergency will still apply as the PAC has no power to extend these time limits.
In summary, the Department are supporting a pragmatic and innovative approach wherever possible to ensure that the planning process remains operational and essential services and connections are maintained during this period of continued uncertainty.
Please note that a more detailed article relating to time limits and commencement of development shall issue later in the week.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Planning & Environmental team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.