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The purpose of the planning system is to regulate the development and use of land in the public interest. The planning system plays a crucial role in delivering appropriate forms of  development to serve the needs of society, while ensuring that the vital asset (land) that will deliver long–term prosperity and wellbeing does not become exhausted or degraded.


Responsibility for planning in Northern Ireland is shared between the 11 local councils and the Department for Infrastructure (the Department).

The 11 councils are responsible for:

  • Local development planning – creating a plan which will set out a clear vision of how the council area should look in the future by deciding what type and scale of development should be encouraged and where it should be located;
  • Development management – determining the vast majority of planning applications;
  • Planning enforcement – investigating alleged breaches of planning control and determining what action should be taken.

The Department is responsible for:

  • Determination of regionally significant and ‘called–in’ planning applications;
  • Regional Development Strategy (RDS);
  • Regional planning policy;
  • Planning legislation;
  • Performance management;
  • Oversight and guidance for councils;

The Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland’ – Planning for Sustainable Development (SPPS) 2015) sets out regional planning policies for securing the orderly and consistent development of land in Northern Ireland under the reformed two–tier planning system. The provisions of the SPPS must be taken into account in the preparation of Local Development Plans, and are also material to all decisions on individual planning applications and appeals.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) designation is intended to support the management of land for purposes of conservation and recreation. The eight AONBs (covering c.25% of the land area of Northern Ireland) are the principal mechanism for protection and enhancement of landscapes. However, AONB management bodies in Northern Ireland are primarily non–statutory and in comparison to other parts of the UK, they are poorly resourced in their extent and security of funding and AONBs receive limited protection through the planning system.

Organisations like Belfast Hills Partnership, Lough Neagh Partnership, Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark also work to protect and enhance areas without a landscape designation.

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