The Northern Ireland Executive’s Environment minister, Arlene Foster, has published what are described as “the emerging findings” of her review of the review of public administration previous recommendations on local government. You can read the actual document here [pdf file]. According to the statement “the proposals outlined in the paper mark the beginning, and not the end, of a process of reform and modernisation for local government.” So what was the earlier review then? ANYhoo.. as for specific proposals, perhaps the area to focus on for now is planning.
26. Rather than all of the development plan functions being transferred to local government, as proposed under the RPA, it is proposed that there should be a separation between the Area Plan and Local Plan functions, with central and local government taking forward different roles. Under the current model, the Department would be responsible for taking forward a number of strategic Area Plans covering groupings of district councils, while the new councils would be given powers to take forward more detailed Local Plans to reflect local needs. Just as Area Plans are required to be in conformity with the Regional Development Strategy, it is envisaged that the local Plans would be required to be in conformity with the Area Plans.
Guidelines will be required to clarify the respective remits of Area and Local Plans. The Department intends to bring forward proposals to reform the development plan process and these proposals will redefine the nature of Area and Local Plans and provide further detail on the roles of central and local government and the relationship between them in the development plan process. (see Annex A).
27. It is also proposed to transfer the bulk of development control functions, excluding regionally significant development proposals, to local government. This would give councils the final decision on the bulk of individual applications. However, the Minister would retain responsibility for more strategic applications which have relevance to Northern Ireland as a whole or to substantial parts of Northern Ireland. The enforcement function would also be the responsibility of local government.
28. It is, however, important to note the key points, set out in Annex A, about the number of possible models currently being considered for the transfer of local plans/subject plans, development control and enforcement. Considerable further work is needed to establish the relative costs and benefits of these models. However, for the purpose of illustration, the costs of transfer set out in paragraphs 43 and 44 assume a fully decentralised model.