Belfast City Council charter aims to speed planning process

Belfast City Council has outlined a new customer service charter following reported complaints about the speed with which it deals with planning permissions.

Belfast: 10 point charter to speed planning Image | William Murphy, Flickr
Belfast: 10 point charter to speed planning Image | William Murphy, Flickr

The council announced that it is adopting the ten point charter on the handling of planning applications in response to a review of the service carried out by Scotland’s former chief planner, Jim Mackinnon.

Planning understands from local sources in the sector that a consultation carried out by Mackinnon as part of his review identified widespread concerns that the council’s planning department has been struggling to cope with a rise in development activity in the city.

The council’s planning committee chair, Donal Lyons, said: "As Belfast continues to experience an unprecedented level of growth; the new measures have been designed to improve both the quality and speed of the application process in a way which balances the benefits to householders, private industry and the wider community."

The charter includes a number of commitments covering pre-application discussions, information requirements and the speed of different parts of the planning application process.

Mackinnon was called in by the authority to review the operation of its planning function, following the transfer of planning powers to councils under the 2015 reorganisation of local government in the province.

The council has not released the contents of the report, but a spokesperson said that it may do so in future.

The council has also announced that it is in the process of appointing a new planning chief, following the departure of Phil Williams as director of planning and place at the end of last year.

Williams joined the council in 2015, having previously been head of planning at Cardiff City Council, but a Belfast City Council spokesperson said his temporary contract has now expired.

The new appointment will take on the title of director of planning and building control, which a council spokesperson said better reflected the responsibilities of the post.

Belfast-based planning consultant Clyde Shanks welcomed the council’s efforts to improve its planning service.

But he added: "I think the big issue is resources and the ability of council planners to engage effectively with planning applications. My view is that the council also needs additional resources among people who are processing the applications."

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