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New community consultation rules for NI planning applications

From 1 July 2015, any new planning application classed as 'major' in Northern Ireland will be subject to mandatory community consultation requirements that must be fulfilled before the application is submitted. 

The thresholds for 'major' applications are relatively low. For housing the threshold is over 50 units or a total site area greater than two hectares. Industrial developments must be over 5000 square metres gross floor space or one hectare and retailing or leisure must exceed 1000 square metres gross floorspace or one hectare total site area. 

What's changing?

If a proposal is falls into the 'major' category, the applicant must notify the relevant council planning authority of the intention to submit an application at least 12 weeks before the application is submitted. During this period the applicant must also publish a notice detailing the proposal in a local newspaper and hold a 'public event' in the locality of the proposed development 'where members of the public may make comments' on the proposal. When the application is submitted it must be accompanied by a 'pre-application community consultation report' detailing the consultation and its outcome in terms of responses and, if necessary, how any concerns raised have been dealt with in the application. 

Considerations for developers

This is a highly significant and potentially onerous new requirement for planning applications in Northern Ireland, and the commencement date is fast approaching. For applications that will be submitted from 1 July 2015 onwards, developers will need to factor in the time and cost of undertaking the community consultation, and consider the nature and scope of the consultation required. Insufficient consultation could form a reason for refusal or grounds for a subsequent legal challenge. Conversely, undertaking an extensive consultation that is disproportionate to the nature of the proposal will increase costs and delays in moving the planning application forward. 

This is an almost entirely new concept for Northern Ireland developers to grapple with and current guidance from the Department of the Environment is relatively vague in terms of setting out the requirements for community consultation. What constitutes best practice will inevitably take some time to develop, but those engaging with the planning system in coming months will do well to consider these obligations in detail from the outset. 

For further information contact Andrew Ryan on +44 (0)333 006 0967 or andrew.ryan@TLTsolicitors.com.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at April 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases; we cannot be held responsible for any action (or decision not to take action) made in reliance upon the content of this publication.

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