Planning Reform – 10 Major Changes

April 1, 2015

From 1st April 2015 the majority of planning functions will transfer from central government to the 11 new district councils and the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 will become fully operational.

Outlined below are what will be the 10 biggest changes to the planning system.

1. Local Development Plans – Local development plans will be prepared by councils for their district and will replace the Department of the Environment’s plans. Members of the public will help to produce the local development plan for their area.

2. Introduction of hierarchy of development – Developments will be classed as either local, major or of regional significance. Local and major developments will be determined by the council. Developments of regional significance will be determined by the Department of the Environment.

3. Pre-application Community Consultation – There will be a statutory duty upon developers to consult with the community in advance of submitting an application for a major or regionally significant development.

4. Scheme of Delegation – The power to decide certain planning applications will be delegated to planning officers in the council. Current statistics show that in England about 90 per cent of all planning decisions are determined by officers without reference to a committee. The type of planning applications to be decided under delegated powers are likely to be those which do not conflict with the local development plan and/or receive no objections from the public.

5. Costs at Planning Appeal – The Planning Appeals Commission may award costs in a planning appeal where the unreasonable behaviour of one party has left another out of pocket (for example, the proposed development is obviously not in accordance with the local development plan).

6. Fixed Penalty Notices – Fixed penalty notices will be introduced for the offence of failure to comply with an enforcement notice or breach of condition notice. If payment is made within 14  days the amount payable will be reduced by 25%. The council must not serve more than one fixed penalty notice in relation to a particular step or activity.

7. Non-material Changes – The council will be permitted to make changes to any planning permission if it is satisfied that the change is “not material”. There is no statutory definition of “non-material” and the responsibility for determining whether a proposed change is non material will lie with the council.

8. Consultation Response Times – Statutory consultees will be required to provide a response on a planning application within 21 days.

9. Planning Appeals – The time limit for submitting appeals will be reduced from 6 to 4 months. There will also be a restriction on the introduction of new material at appeal.

10. Increase in fines – The maximum fine on summary conviction will increase from £30,000 to £100,000 for the contravention of hazardous substances control and non-compliance with stop notices (including temporary stop notices) and enforcement notices.