Meet Stephen Masterson, Associate in our Planning & Environment team

Stephen Masterson, Associate in our Planning & Environment team, tells us about his work, the key opportunities and challenges facing the planning sector in NI currently, and what he enjoys most about working at Cleaver Fulton Rankin.

1. Why did you choose a career in law?

I had my sights set on a career in law from a very young age. I remember going into secondary school knowing that I wanted to be a lawyer. I was definitely influenced by what I saw in TV shows at the time, which was likely very theatrical and unrealistic, but I was drawn to the way that a case could be argued and how the outcome could turn at any point during those arguments. As I grew older and realised that the law went beyond family and criminal matters, so too did my interest in the various areas of law that I could choose to work in.

2. Tell us about your work as a Planning & Environment Solicitor.

I joined Cleaver Fulton Rankin as a Solicitor in August 2019. In my current role as an Associate within the Planning & Environmental Team, I work on some very interesting and complex planning cases. I provide advice to both private and public sector clients on a wide range of regulatory and enforcement matters.

I regularly act on behalf of a number of local councils in the drafting of intricate planning agreements which are used by councils to deliver much needed infrastructure throughout Northern Ireland. I also specialise in liquor licensing and regularly advise hoteliers, publicans and restauranteurs in relation to opening new premises in Northern Ireland and I assist with securing the appropriate licence for their business needs. In addition to planning, environmental and licensing work, I also have a substantial judicial review case load, and regularly act on behalf of clients both issuing and defending challenges in the High Court in relation to a public body decision.

3. Are there any key opportunities or challenges facing the NI planning sector currently?

The planning sector in Northern Ireland has faced substantial challenges in the past number of years. The lack of an Executive coupled together with a refreshed planning system, which many see as not being fit for purpose, has caused significant delays to planning applications. Northern Ireland lags behind its UK counterparts in terms of development, both residential and commercial, and there needs to be a big push if we are to reach our renewable targets by 2030. There is a demand for renewable infrastructure and developments need to progress quickly to meet those targets. There is, of course, the concern that investments could be lost in Northern Ireland if we do not meet our renewable targets. However, with the recently formed Executive in Northern Ireland, it is encouraging to see the issue of planning taking centre stage with a motion backed by the Assembly for fundamental appraisal of the planning system being debated and passed in recent weeks. I will be keeping a close eye on how this progresses!

4. What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career so far?

Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin. This is a rather general lesson, but I believe it applies to any area of work, and even your personal life. It particularly applies to anyone working in the legal profession as there are always deadlines to be worked towards, whether that is, in my case, a statutory deadline for issuing enforcement proceedings or for bringing a judicial review challenge. Keeping on top of deadlines is crucial for easing work-related stress and anxiety, as a job in the legal profession can be quite overwhelming at times.

5. What do you enjoy most about working at Cleaver Fulton Rankin?

Getting to work alongside a fantastic and expert team of lawyers in the planning and environmental sector. This area of law is, for the most part, still quite niche and I count myself very lucky to have great mentors who are passionate about what they do. Cleaver Fulton Rankin has a great focus on employee health and wellbeing and provide a lot of resources to help us look after ourselves and our mental health, too. They also know how to throw a good party and I would be lying if I said my (usual) luck winning raffle prizes wasn’t enjoyable!

Find out more about Cleaver Fulton Rankin’s Planning & Environment services here.


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