Policy Forum for Northern Ireland

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

Next steps for planning policy in Northern Ireland

Morning, Wednesday, 16th June 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference focuses on priorities and next steps for planning policy in Northern Ireland - as well as the effectiveness of the planning system’s operation, and the role of planning and infrastructure in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will be an opportunity to discuss the current review of the 2011 Northern Ireland Planning Act by the Department for Infrastructure, as well as the Northern Ireland Audit Office’s review of the planning system’s effectiveness since the transfer of powers in April 2015.

We are pleased to be able to include keynote sessions with: Alistair Beggs, Director of Strategic Planning, Department for Infrastructure; and Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General, Northern Ireland Audit Office.

Sessions in the agenda look at:

  • delivery by councils of Local Development Plans and how they are carrying out their decision-making and enforcement powers - as well as challenges faced, and opportunities going forward
  • assessing guidance and action that the Department for Infrastructure has provided to support the operation of the planning system
  • options for streamlining planning processes and enabling the more effective delivery of strategic infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland in the longer term
  • the role of the planning system in supporting economic recovery and development in the wake of COVID-19

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from the Department for Infrastructure; the Department for the Economy; DAERA; Northern Ireland Audit Office; and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

The agenda:

  • Assessing the current effectiveness of the planning system in Northern Ireland
  • The transfer of planning powers to local authorities and Local Development Plans - challenges faced by local authorities and next steps for improving the operation of the planning system
  • Major planning applications in Northern Ireland - an overview
  • Charting the future role of the planning system - regeneration, economic recovery and development in the wake of COVID-19
  • The planning system in Northern Ireland - next steps for policy

Key areas for discussion:

The transfer of planning powers to local authorities:

  • how effectively the planning system is operating:
    • overcoming challenges - lessons that can be learnt from the way local authorities have addressed the challenges that they have faced since the transfer of powers in 2015
    • improving outcomes and service delivery - the ways in which local authorities and the Department of Infrastructure can achieve these
    • stakeholder engagement - assessing what improvements could be made to:
      • the way local authorities are engaging with communities and other key stakeholders
      • ensure that stakeholder voices are considered fully when assessing planning applications and implementing wider planning policies
    • Local Development Plans - how effectively councils are delivering them so far, and whether they present a sufficiently clear vision for how local authorities will shape development in each area
  • economic development and regeneration - the role and impact of local planning powers:
    • tackling obstacles - what can be done to overcome the issues that some businesses and other stakeholders have faced in relation to planning powers, such as the consistency in planning processes for applicants across different councils and delays
    • further support - whether more is needed for small and medium sized business to navigate the planning process, and what form it should take

Major planning applications and the recovery from COVID-19 - the role infrastructure development in Northern Ireland can play in the post COVID-19 recovery, and the way in which the planning system needs to change to facilitate this:

  • overcoming barriers to infrastructure development - ways in which the planning process can be streamlined for projects of regional significance, for example by introducing statutory timeframes for regionally significant and major applications
  • creating a long term infrastructure strategy - what should be the make-up of a future Northern Ireland Infrastructure Commission, the creation of which was recently recommended by an independent panel, and what should its key infrastructure investment priorities be

A scan of relevant developments:

  • Review of the implementation of the Planning Act (NI) 2011 - currently being carried out by the Department for Infrastructure with a call for evidence underway, which is looking at:
    • implementation of the Act so far and whether it is meeting its original objective of creating an effective two tier planning system in Northern Ireland
    • further improvements that can be made to the system for all stakeholders, including councils, developers and the public - including issues around:
      • information that developers provide when submitting applications
      • response times, and the handling of major planning decisions
      • enforcement
  • Planning in Northern Ireland - the Northern Ireland Audit Office’s ongoing review of the effectiveness of the planning system since the transfer of powers, due to report in the Spring, focusing on:
    • how effectively local authorities are delivering Local Development Plans alongside their decision-making and enforcement responsibilities
    • key issues and constraints which are affecting local authorities’ performance
    • the effectiveness of guidance provided by the Department for Infrastructure
  • Seizing the opportunity to level-up the NI planning system - CBI Northern Ireland’s report on major planning processes, which sets out a number of recommendations to streamline the planning process and establish a new framework which allows the more effective delivery of major infrastructure projects in the long term, with recommendations including:
    • strengthening the pre-application discussion process, reducing the pre-application consultation process to eight weeks, the establishment of processing agreements, the introduction of statutory timeframes, and all regionally significant and called-in applications to be sent directly to the Planning Appeals Commission
    • establishment of an independent body in Northern Ireland, such as an Infrastructure Commission for Northern Ireland, to develop a long term infrastructure strategy for Northern Ireland as well as oversee the streamlining of the planning process
  • Ministerial Advisory Panel on Infrastructure (MAPI) - Report - the publication of the panel’s final report, which recommends the establishment of an Infrastructure Commission as soon as is practical, which should set out an overall vision for infrastructure in Northern Ireland for the next 30 years, reporting to the Executive Office

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for Infrastructure, NI; Department for the Economy, NI; DAERA, NI; Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from local authorities, regulators and other agencies, planning professionals, representatives from the infrastructure, engineering, construction and energy sectors, architects, lawyers, environmental and advocacy groups, consultants and academics, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speaker

Alistair Beggs

Director of Strategic Planning, Department for Infrastructure

Keynote Speakers

Kieran Donnelly

Comptroller and Auditor General, Northern Ireland Audit Office

Alistair Beggs

Director of Strategic Planning, Department for Infrastructure


Andrew Muir MLA

Member, Committee for Infrastructure


Cllr Alistair Cathcart

Planning Committee, Ards and North Down Borough Council

Professor Geraint Ellis

School of Natural and Built Environment, Queens University Belfast

Maria O’Loan

Consultant, Environment and Planning Team, Tughans

Senior speaker confirmed from the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation

Paul Duffy

Head of Planning, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

Glyn Roberts

Chief Executive, Retail NI

Dr Roisin Willmott

Director, Wales and Northern Ireland and Planning Aid England, Royal Town Planning Institute