Event on Northern Irish power switch

The RTPI is helping councillors prepare to gain planning powers in 2015, says Roisin Willmott.

Legislation is now in place for a reformed system of local government to take on planning functions in Northern Ireland, inevitably meaning a significant change in both the role and character of local councils.

Elections will take place in 2014, and functions are scheduled to be transferred in 2015, leaving less than 900 days for preparation.

RTPI Northern Ireland organised a sell-out event at Stormont with various speakers to help councillors meet this challenge.

Jim Dillon, representing the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, said to councillors: "We must take on a more substantial representational role in relation to planning: that of designing and shaping our localities to improve the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of our citizens."

Environment minister Alex Attwood said planning is a "vast responsibility" and the transfer must be done right and be fully funded, but added that it can liberate councils if they "don't run scared of it".

He also signalled his intention to follow Scotland's example of having a single policy document and indicated that a planning bill could be published before Christmas.

Centre for Scottish Public Policy director Ross Martin said councillors had a critical role: they must take ownership of their local plan and decisions, and planning committees need to consider the wider work of the council and use planning as a place-making tool.

RTPI president Colin Haylock said it was vital to provide adequate resources for planning. He announced the RTPI's intention to extend the Politicians in Planning Association (PIPA) and highlighted the opportunity that local government reform offers for introducing a Planning Aid service to Northern Ireland.

Roisin Willmott is head of RTPI Northern Ireland.

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