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Northern Ireland’s environment minister, Arlene Foster, has announced her intention to bring forward proposals for a wide-ranging reform of the planning system in Northern Ireland and has appointed an expert adviser to provide an independent opinion on what medium to long-term measures are required.

Foster said: “I want a planning system that supports and encourages sustainable economic growth, while protecting and enhancing the natural and built-environment.”

She added: “I want to see a planning system which delivers for everyone in Northern Ireland. No aspect of planning will be left untouched in the quest for a more streamlined development plan system, a more effective development control system, improved efficiency of processing and greater certainty about timescales.”

She also emphasised that any new processes should allow full and open consultation and should engage communities. This year, the public will be invited to offer their views on the reform agenda and a formal consultation paper will be published, seeking comments on the emerging proposals. In advance of this, the minister advised that action is continuing on implementing a short-term change programme, through a series of projects and pilots relating to areas within the responsibility of the planning service, which will have an immediate impact on handling planning applications.

The planning service has formalised a pre-application discussion (PAD) initiative, which will apply to strategically important planning applications, to identify obvious problems at an early stage in the process and promote high-quality applications to maximise the prospects of reaching a decision quickly.

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