Issue 17

PLANNING SUCCESS AT THE HEART OF MEA'S ECONOMIC GROWTH

By Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

A good litmus test of any council’s credentials is to put its planning process under the microscope.

A lethargic, overly complicated and cumbersome system – as can often be the case - smacks of a lack of focus and shows scant regard for the priorities of a private sector already burdened with the challenges of global competition and an uncertain political environment.

One which places importance on efficiency in its planning process, which works with business to understand their needs and which is also effectively governed is much more in tune with the needs of a modern economy and indeed society.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has placed planning at the heart of our strategy to grow the economy in the surrounding area and to shoulder much of the growth of the Northern Ireland economy.

With that very clear vision we made sure that, since planning powers were passed to this and the other 10 local councils in 2015, we created the most efficient planning process possible.

Now we can boast that planning decisions in Mid and East Antrim are made faster than in any other council area in Northern Ireland, taking around six weeks to complete compared to a regional average of 15 weeks. Major planning applications can be turned around in as little as three weeks and we are consistently ranked as the number one council in Northern Ireland for planning times.

That is quite an achievement, particularly as we have made sure it doesn’t come at a cost and have maintained our razor-sharp focus on sustaining, protecting and enhancing our natural environment, safeguarding our built heritage, driving retail growth and addressing our housing needs.

Our council leads the way in the transformation of planning in Northern Ireland and this is primarily due to the foresight, vision and ambition of our elected members and senior management.

How have we managed such a feat?

I took the decision to manage planning for the first two years of the transformation of services, personally shaping how we deliver planning in Mid and East Antrim.

I knew we needed to seek out best practice, identifying those areas where planning had been successfully aligned with economic development.

With that in mind, I led a delegation which travelled to Peterborough to learn from one of the most respected planning councils in the UK.

The lessons we gleaned there were invaluable and we made sure to integrate them into our own system before testing it thoroughly in the run up to the introduction of planning powers.

Secondly, we realised that not every decision needs to go before a planning committee, so we worked closely with our elected members around a highly efficient and effective Scheme of Delegation.

Through this addition to the system, planning decisions which are considered minor can be made by highly skilled officers within the planning department rather than having to wait to go before councillors at a planning meeting.

We have also made sure to work closely with business and others on major planning decisions, ensuring open discussion from the very outset to the final planning decision, and offering pre-application meetings to assist our investors and deliver on our role as enablers and facilitators to economic development.

It is this pro-business attitude which has won us such plaudits over the last year for our planning process, encouragement which is not easy won by a council.

We have shifted the reputation of planning locally from being faceless and bureaucratic, to a system that works, and is seen as delivering for our community and business leaders, and supporting economic growth.

Our plans for the investment secured through Belfast City Region Deal are evidence of this innovation and dynamism, highlighting the roll out of more than £80m of investments in Mid and East Antrim across manufacturing, tourism, skills and employability.

An efficient planning system is crucial to win that investment and crucial to ensure the continuing efficient functioning of the economy in Mid and East Antrim.

Carry out a litmus test on this council and it is clear we have a planning system which is a model of best practice and which has the health of the local economy at its core, and one which is increasingly being used as an example from which others can learn and implement within their areas.

By Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

Issue 17

Issue 17

RAIL REVIEW, BBC, PLANNING BILL, TRANSPORT IN EDINBURGH, AND MORE PLANNING

BBC

It’s here. After much hype, much anticipation, and much expenditure, the new BBC Scotland channel is now in its second month and the political bubble has been active in debating the good and bad, rights and wrongs, fair and unfair.

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