Local Development Plans roll out in NI ‘unfair’, says planning consultant

Some self-builders are getting refused planning permission in one part of NI when they could have been approved in another, due to the ‘unfair’ roll out of the new Local Development Plans says planning consultant Mervyn McNeill.

In this article we cover:

  • What the changes are
  • Why self-builders are being denied planning permission
  • Why the roll out of the Local Development Plans are ‘unfair’
  • What the situation is in different local councils today
  • What happens when going through the appeals process

“If you’ve applied for planning permission and paid the appropriates fees then you should be assessed under the policy that is in force at the time you apply, but unfortunately this is not the case and that is grossly unfair,” Mervyn McNeill said at the Selfbuild Live Belfast’s Advice Hub, in October 2023.

“The larger picture is that this change could affect the economic sustainability of rural areas with younger generations no longer able to live in the countryside, which could potentially have a detrimental effect on rural schools, churches, and community facilities,” he added.

What the Local Development Plan changes are

Mervyn explained that since 2015, planning departments’ powers were transferred from Northern Ireland’s central government (the Department of Environment, now the Department of Infrastructure), to 11 local councils.

In those 11 councils, relevant Planning Departments transferred these powers to Council Planning Departments which have each since been developing their own individual Local Development Plan (LDP).

These 11 Local Development Plans are to replace the central government’s Planning Policy Statement 21 (PPS21) – Sustainable Development in the Countryside for Northern Ireland. 

The Local Development Plans were to be completed by 2018, but some of the Councils are only now (in 2023) adopting new Development Plans, namely Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh, and Fermanagh & Tyrone.

Others councils are pending implementation, dates unknown, are nearing implementation, or are working on their draft Local Development Plans. Some might implement them next year, others have yet to start the process.

“Northern Ireland is not a big enough place to have different planning policies and regulations for one-off houses,” said Mervyn. “One place you can get planning, another place you can’t.” He added that he is not against change, but he believes it must be open and transparent and provide equality and fairness for everyone throughout NI.

Mervyn said the Department for Infrastructure will claim the changes have been well advertised, and underwent public consultation.

“The department claims this is what the public wants,” he said. “Apart from the general public, who appears not to know of the new Council LDPs, many MPs, MLAs, Councillors and some other Planning Consultants also have no awareness of what the Local Development Plans will mean to the self-builder and to applicants who wish to live in the countryside.”

Mervyn said the transitional period for the implementation and adoption of these Local Development Plans kept changing with no clear advance date of proposed adoption.

Unfair: Current cases being assessed

Mervyn added that many applicants have applied in “good faith” and paid the Council Planning fees under PPS21. However if the Local Council has since adopted an LDP, the assessment will be made under the new LDP.

Meaning an application that potentially would have met PPS21, but not the new LDP, will be refused. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure told Selfbuild in an email: “where a council adopts its Plan Strategy, existing policy retained under the transitional arrangements of the SPPS (such as PPS 21) shall cease to have effect in the district of that council and shall not be material from that date, whether the planning application has been received before or after that date”.

Mervyn says that generally the Local Development Plans tend to be more restrictive than PPS21 for development in the countryside affecting small farmers, small rural house builders, or individuals who wish to remain or live within the countryside and build their own house.

Mervyn says the council’s target to assess planning applications is to do so within 15 weeks but in reality, it can take much longer than that. He says Lisburn Castlereagh is taking 38 weeks. On the other hand, Mid and East Antrim is taking around nine weeks. Mervyn added that a quick turnaround isn’t always good news for the applicant.

Mervyn stated, “I have written out to all our MPs, MLAs, some of which have only recently became aware of the implications of the adoption of the Local Development Plan, endeavouring to lobby them for Councils to postpone the adoption of the LDP until the full implications are known by the general public, constituents, farmers, self-builders and others who wish to live in the countryside.”

As an example, Mervyn referred to a case of a small local builder who’d purchased land and applied in June 2023 for two infills in Mid & East Antrim area [two houses to be built between existing dwellings on either side], complying with PPS21.

Mervyn says that on adoption of the LDP, scheduled for 16 October 2023 the application will be refused as the new LDP only allows for one infill.


If your planning application is refused with the local Council, the next stage is to appeal it to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).

“PAC is running a two year backlog,” says Mervyn. “By the time PAC sees some of these applications under PPS21, all the councils will have the new Local Development Plans in.” He adds that the PAC will assess the applications under the LDP and not PPS21.

“Applications that have been refused by the Council under PPS21, and that are now with the Planning Appeals Commission, will be assessed under the Council’s new LDP and will therefore potentially be refused.”

Two parts to the new development plans

The Department of Infrastructure told Selfbuild the LDP is made up of the parts, the Plan Strategy (PS) and the Local Policies Plan (LPP):

“Until the LPP is adopted, any reference to the LDP refers to the extant departmental development plan and the newly adopted plan strategy read together. That is until such time as the LPP is also adopted.” 

“When a council adopts the local policies plan for its district the relevant departmental development plan/s shall cease to have effect, for the area to which the LPP relates, and only when both a PS and LPP are adopted together they comprise the LDP for a given council area.”

local development plans unfair

Mervyn McNeill is a chartered surveyor and architectural technologist, and is a member of RICS, CIAT, CIOB, and Cabe.

If you have any concerns or have already been detrimentally affected by your Local Development Plan or should you have applications in under PPS21, or have appealed to the Planning Appeals Commission under PPS21, you can contact Mervyn McNeill for advice via email: macdesign144@gmail.com

Share and Enjoy !



Written by Astrid Madsen

Astrid Madsen is the editor of the SelfBuild magazine. Email astrid.madsen@selfbuild.ie

Low energy home on a budget

How foundations are built for timber frame