Time taken for planning decision is ‘excessive’

The length of time that Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council [LCCC] takes to process major planning applications has been branded ‘excessive’.

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 8:57 am
Mayor Councillor Nicholas Trimble
Mayor Councillor Nicholas Trimble

The criticism toward the LCCC’s Planning Committee comes after it was revealed that the average waiting time to process an application takes around 107 weeks, or two and half years.

The latest admission was outlined in a quarterly report based on the council’s performance at a meeting of the Development Committee.

In the report, the target for processing major applications was around 30 weeks, some 77 weeks removed.

Mayor Nicholas Trimble said the council’s performance would only cause applicants to be ‘disincentivised’ and urged officials to ‘look at it’ as soon as possible.

He told the committee: “The current number if quite far in excess of where the target is and I know there has been historical issue of trying to get this number down but it seems very reluctant to come down but we should be doing everything we can as close to 30 or below 30.

“This is going to be a huge disincentive for people wanting to process major applications in our area and it’s something that I believe we really need to look at.”

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Development Committee Alderman Jim Dillon said he too was “far from happy” with the figure.

Donal Rogan, Director of Service Transformation at LCCC, said some of the issue that accounted for the missed target was due to ‘home working as a result of Covid-19’.

Mr Rogan said that assurances had been given to major applicants in the past who had submitted “quality applications”, adding that ‘some of those applications had been turned around in less than 11 weeks’.

“The major applications here are housing and you’ve had a number of very controversial and difficult major housing applications which all adds up to lengthen that process,” Mr Rogan said.

“There is definitely issues going on with site validations and you can imagine that home working doesn’t help with the site validation process but we have taken actions more recently to address that.”

Head of Planning for Lisburn Castlereagh Conor Hughes defended the performance of the planning committee saying that they had ‘outperformed’ other councils on this issue across the country.

Mr Hughes said that the reasons that the average processing times had swelled was due to phase three of the north Lisburn feeder road and ‘complex negotiations’ between the council and DfI Roads.

He added: “The figures that I have before me which tells me that [Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council] actually processed 14 major applications between March 31, 2020 until now, which is more than one a month.

“That is probably more than maybe three or four other councils in Northern Ireland put together so that the problem that I have is that two percent of the applications are major but we are processing a large number, more than one a month.

“Members need to reflect and look upon performance with major applications over the year but I can assure you that there is a key focus on us providing timely decisions which falls within the major category quickly.”

“At the end of quarter three [last year] the planning unit had received 629 planning applications and processed 600.

“That was throughout the Covid-19 pandemic when officers were working from home, so members will note that there isn’t a backlog of applications being created as a consequence of Covid and that is not a true reflection of what’s happening in other council’s in Northern Ireland.”