Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has announced a joint project between the Department of the Environment (DOE) and Newry, Mourne and Down Council, preparing for transfer of planning powers.
It will see people in South Down having planners on their doorstep for the first time.
At present DOE Planning for Newry, Mourne and Down operates from Rathkeltair House in Downpatrick and Marlborough House, Craigavon. From Monday 29 September 2014, experienced Planners from DOE Area Planning Team will relocate to council sites in Downpatrick and Newry, where they will work alongside future council colleagues while ensuring a normal planning service is maintained for the area covered by the new council.
Planning functions transfer from central government to local government on 1 April 2015.
Welcoming the development Mark H Durkan said: “This project will help shape how councils will deliver planning, bringing it closer to the public in the new Newry Mourne and Down Council area post April 2015.
“It is also a significant and tangible step forward in the reform of local government programme. All 11 new councils need to be ready to assume their new responsibilities when planning functions are formally transferred to them next April.
“The reform of local government will ultimately deliver local councils which are more effective, more efficient and more responsive to the needs of their local business and community.”
Presiding Councillor of Newry, Mourne and Down Council Charlie Casey said: “The Newry Mourne and Down Council is delighted to have been chosen as the pathfinder project to transfer planning services from central government to Council resulting in greater local accessibility for everyone.
“We hope this new means of service delivery will transform the nature of interaction between the public and planning service on all planning matters. This pathfinder project will inform the way for the regional transfer of planning services from 1 April 2015”.
***Planning Functions For Newry Mourne and Down Council – Pathfinding Project Key dates, figures and Q & A`s 29 September 2014: Date pathfinding project goes live 1 April 2015: Date responsibility for planning functions formally transfer from DOE to the new Newry Mourne and Down Council 41 Number of DOE staff relocating with project Why is the project taking place? * The purpose of the project is to prepare the way for the transfer of planning functions from DOE to Newry Mourne and Down Council; the project is a joint DOE/Council venture. * Responsibility for the majority of planning functions will formally pass from DOE to Newry Mourne and Down and to the other 10 new councils on 1st April 2015. What does the project in Newry Mourne and Down involve? * Basically, a group of staff are being moved from existing DOE Local Planning Offices into sites (in Newry and Downpatrick) used by Newry Mourne and Down Council. They will carry out their normal functions at those sites while working alongside future council colleagues. * The idea is to explore in a practical way how planning might best work within a council operating environment post 1st April 2015. * As well as informing how the planning function will be delivered in Newry Mourne and Down, the lessons learned will support the roll out of planning to other councils which also have to be ready to assume responsibility for planning before it is handed over. * DOE remains responsible for the staff involved in the project and the discharge of planning functions until 1st April 2015. How are people affected by the change and what are the benefits? * There is no change to the way planning applications are determined and the experienced staff involved will ensure continuity of service. * Applicants will be able to lodge, pay for and seek advice about planning applications as they do at the moment however the service will be provided from new locations. * Applicants will be able to lodge their planning applications at the Council Offices in the Downshire Civic Centre, Ardglass Road, Downpatrick or at the Council Offices in Monaghan Row, Newry. * In addition to providing more convenient service this avoids the need for many to travel to Craigavon. * The public service hub on the site at the Downshire Civic Centre already includes the NI Housing Executive and NI Fire Service as well as the Council and the arrival of planning will further enhance the benefits of the site to the public. Will the arrangements change for contacting planning staff? Members of the public can telephone as they do now using NIDirect number 0300 200 7830 (NI only) or 02891 513101. Further information about the transfer of planning in general can be found at www.doeni.gov.uk/index/localgovernment