Belfast City Council has announced plans to reform its planning service to improve the quality and speed of the application process
Cllr Donal Lyons, chair of the council’s Planning Committee, said a shake-up is needed as Belfast experiences “an unprecedented level of growth”.
“New recommendations will be introduced, as well as a Customer Charter with 10 operating principles, to reduce backlogs in the planning application system, speed up transactions and ensure the service is faster, better and more engaging,” he added.
“It will also help support the delivery of the council’s 20-year strategy, the Belfast Agenda.”
The proposed changes follow recommendations set out in a report the council commissioned from Scotland’s former chief planner, Jim Mackinnon CBE.
The Customer Charter would include commitments to carry out site visits no later than 21 days after an application is valid; the introduction of pre-application discussion service to identify potential issues before plans are submitted; and that unacceptable applications will be determined as quickly as possible in the interests of the overall efficiency of the service.
There will also be a series of internal measures including the introduction of staff training and development programmes, a closer integration of planning and building control, and improvements to the development management process through the appointment of a dedicated road engineer and an increase in officers authorised to sign reports.
The work will be taken forward by the Planning Committee and a new senior management team, including a director of planning and building control.
Jim Mackinnon will stay on to act as an expert adviser to help move the service forward.
He said: “I am confident the adoption of these recommendations and principles will see a step-change in the quality of the development management service in Belfast City.
“For households, we would expect to see a significant improvement in the efficiency with which planning applications are dealt with, while the development industry will have greater certainty on outcomes. The council is also looking to improve the quality of its engagement with communities affected by planning proposals.”