Covid-19 measures are adding at least six weeks to planning decisions in ROI, writes Michael O’Keeffe of healycornelius design
In ROI the Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government has introduced measures that allow planning departments to pause the progress of planning applications.
This order took effect from 29th March and was due to end on the 20th April but has been extended by an additional 19 days, up to and including 9th May 2020.
A planning authority will now have the normal period of eight weeks, together with an additional period of up to six weeks i.e. up to fourteen weeks in total, to determine a planning application.
You can however make a new application as normal as local authorities continue to register, validate, and upload new applications as resources allow but, for now, the applications will generally not be processed beyond that.
The extended time periods also apply to Development Plans, Planning Enforcement and Planning Appeals (An Bord Pleanála).
My Planning Application has already been lodged – what happens now?
Applications already in the system and where the five week period for public submissions has passed – these applications can be processed to a decision. However, the period for deciding these applications may be extended by a further six weeks (i.e. if a decision is due 27th April, it now becomes due on 8th June).
As for applications in the system that are still within the five week consultation period – these applications cannot currently be processed to a decision as the consultation period has been extended (i.e. if the application was submitted after 29th March 2020, the five week consultation period now commences on 10th May 2020, meaning the earliest a decision could be made would be 15th June 2020).
What if I decide to wait until the restrictive measures are lifted?
The statutory planning timeframes will apply as normal, however the planning authorities will have to manage the backlog resulting from the measures introduced in the emergency legislation. Best to get in the queue as early as possible as a first come first served policy applies.
What is the situation in NI?
The Chief Planner of the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) published advice on the current situation on 27 March which advised that it is important that Councils provide the “best service possible in these challenging times” and to “work pro-actively with applicants” and “where necessary agree extended periods for making decisions.”
A number of local Councils have issued statements, confirming that they will be continuing to progress applications. The Chief Planner advised that councils should “maintain decision making” and to “take an innovative approach, using all options available, to continue the planning service”.
The Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) closed its office on 24 March 2020 and has suspended all arrangements for submission of evidence and hearings, but new submissions can continue to be made electronically.
The statutory planning timeframes will apply as normal, however the planning authorities will have to manage the backlog resulting from the impact of the current situation and “work pro-actively with applicants” and “where necessary agree extended periods for making decisions.”
Delays in processing applications therefore seem inevitable, but we understand that Local Authorities are working hard to manage the impact of the current restrictions.
All planning offices are closed to the public but in many cases, new applications can still be made.
Some council are accepting new applications by post, see Antrim and Newtownabbey, Lisburn & Castlereagh, Newry, Mourne and Down, and Belfast City. Causeway Coast & Glens is receiving new applications electronically. Derry City & Strabane says “new planning applications are being accepted.”
Fermanagh & Omagh states: “Applications can still be submitted but as we have limited access to the planning portal, we are unable to process new planning applications until the offices are open again.”