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The Ins & Outs: Planning Permission in Northern Ireland

Planning permission is a particularly complex area of property law in Northern Ireland, especially when it comes to commercial properties. 

The Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 provides the legislative framework for the planning system in Northern Ireland.  The Act requires that planning applications are decided in accordance with the relevant planning policies or, if enacted, the Local Development Plan for the area, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

Wilson Nesbitt Real Estate Solicitor, Izabela Treacy, answers some of the most common questions that property developers may have if they are considering developing or extending their commercial property.

When do I need planning permission?

When you are carrying out development which is visible to the outside, which intensifies the use or which changes the use to which a building is put and such works or change of use don’t fall within various exceptions.

What are the exceptions which mean a planning consent is not required?

Consent isn’t required in certain circumstances which are authorised by The Planning (General Permitted Development) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 (“General Permitted Development”).  This includes developments of a certain size or certain types of change of use.

What are the usual reasons when planning permission is refused?

The top reasons why planning is refused are:

  • the proposal is outside of planning policy.
  • there isn’t any need for the development.
  • the proposal adversely impacts neighbours.
  • the proposal negatively impacts on neighbouring amenity.
  • poor accommodation quality.
  • negative effect on character and appearance
  • outside of the development limits
  • traffic and parking pressures.

There are lots of other reasons but irrespective of whether there is an outright refusal or a grant subject to conditions, the local planning authority should be able to explain the reasons and any decision must be in line with the relevant planning policy and / or local development plan.

How do I apply for planning permission in NI?

Submit an application to the local planning authority. It would be usual to engage an architect or planning consultant to help with your application.

What is a PAD?

PAD stands for pre-application discussion.  The process is used by developers to open a conversation with local planners to understand their requirements in relation to a scheme before a formal planning application is submitted.  The aim is for the application to reflect the requirements of the planners and therefore to speed up the planning process and ensure improve outcomes.

What happens after my application is submitted?

The planning officer at the local planning authority will work through the consolation process, consulting with neighbours and statutory authorities before making a recommendation to the planning committee to grant or refuse consent.  A recommendation to grant consent may be made subject to an s76 agreement if it is decided in line with policy that a contribution to housing, travel, infrastructure or otherwise should be made as a condition of the grant of planning.

How long does it take to get planning?

This depends on the capacity of the local authority and size of scheme.  It can be anything from 5 months for an extension to 2 years for a large development scheme.

Is there a time limit set out for work to start on site -once planning permission has been granted?

This will depend on the conditions of the planning consent.  Planning consents usually include a requirement to start on site within a specified period otherwise the consent will lapse.  There are various ways to commence development and protect a planning consent from lapsing.

What other conditions will the planning consent be subject to?

This depends on the nature of the scheme.  Conditions vary from requiring the scheme to be delivered in line with the agreed plans to ensuring that archaeological and contamination surveys are carried out pre-commencement of works.  If there is sensitive flora and fauna it may be that sites can only be cleared during certain times of the year. Certain infrastructure may be required before the scheme can be occupied; attenuation tanks, waste water pumping stations new surface water drains.  There is such a variety of conditions that can be applied depending on the scheme. The key question is whether the local planning authority has followed the correct procedure in making a determination, whether the conditions are relevant for your scheme and whether they are in line with planning policy.

How do I make a planning appeal if my planning application is rejected or subject to unacceptable conditions?

An application should be made to the Planning Appeals Commission who deal with appeals on behalf of the Secretary of State. Appeals can be made where the decision isn’t in line with local planning policy.

Get in Touch

If you require legal advice on property development and Planning Permission, contact Izabela and our expert Real Estate team on 028 90323864 or make an email enquiry here.

Get in touch

To find out more about how we can help you with your query, please contact us.