The Department of Environment (DOE) in Northern Ireland is continuing to develop a comprehensive programme of local government reform, involving the transfer of responsibility for the majority of planning functions from central government to the eleven new councils scheduled for 1 April 2015. The introduction of community planning is a key aspect of this package.

The Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 (the 2014 Act) sets out the framework for the operation of community planning. The new councils will shape how their areas will grow and evolve by preparing local development plans and determining planning decisions made to them. It is envisaged that it will enhance local democratic accountability as communities will have greater opportunity to engage with local elected representatives. It is hoped that these changes will create a planning system which is more inclusive of and responsive to the priorities and needs of the local people of Northern Ireland.

A fundamental aspect of the system outlined in the 2014 Act is the identification of statutory "community planning partners", who will work with the councils at all stages of the planning process. They will be involved in a number of key stages including: 

  • Identifying long term objectives for improving the social, economic and environmental well-being of the district and for achieving sustainable development;
  • Identifying the actions that must be performed and functions to be exercised for the purpose of meeting those objectives;
  • Consulting with the councils on the objectives, actions, functions and content of the community plan;
  • Monitoring and reporting on the progress of the community plan;
  • Reviewing and amending the community plan as necessary;
  • Together with the councils, taking all reasonable steps to implement the actions and functions contained in the community plan.

Under the Draft Local Government (Community Planning Partners) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015, the DOE has designated selected organisations as community planning partners. In preparing this list the DOE has considered those organisations that deliver significant services that promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of a district, or those that provide services across the whole region, which are likely to be of equal importance across all 11 new council areas. The following is a draft list of community planning partners put forward by the DOE:

  • The Education and Library Boards
  • The Health and Social Care Trusts
  • Public Health Agency
  • Health and Social Care Board
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • Northern Ireland Housing Executive
  • Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service
  • Invest Northern Ireland
  • Northern Ireland Tourist Board

The consultation asks for comments on the above list and invites consultees to suggest other organisations that should be identified as community planning partners. Aside from named statutory partners, individual councils will have discretion to invite other partners to join the community planning process, depending on the particular needs and priorities arising in given areas.

Members of the public have until 12 December 2014 to offer views on the draft legislation. The 12 week public consultation period offers stakeholders a crucial opportunity to review the draft policy and submit a response. Following the consultation period, assessment of consultation responses will take place in early 2015 followed by any revisions to the draft legislation, where appropriate. The legislation is expected to be finalised and brought into force in advance of the transfer of powers to councils in April 2015.

To send a response, you can use the digital consultation portal.