DfI Planning’s Response to Covid-19

Due to the exceptional challenges facing society during the Covid-19 crisis and the impact it has had on the way we live and work, the Department has introduced a number of measures to help overcome the obstacles this has placed in the Northern Ireland planning system.

Some measures are only temporary. These will be kept under review and amended as the situation changes. Details of the measures are provided below.

Temporary changes to major application process

Changes to the process for major planning applications, temporarily removing the requirement to hold a public event as part of the pre application community consultation, came into operation on 1 May 2020.

The Planning (Development Management) (Temporary Modifications) (Coronavirus) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 temporarily amended the Planning (Development Management) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015. Following review, these temporary arrangements have been further extended to 31 March 2022 by the Planning (Development Management) (Temporary Modifications) (Coronavirus) (Amendment No.2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 which came into operation on 1 October 2021

Applicants will still need to comply with other requirements to ensure communities are aware of and can input to major development proposals for their areas. However, this temporary change will allow major planning applications to continue to be submitted during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The regulations can be accessed at:

Guidance for applicants on alternatives to this important element of the consultation process has been provided and is available at:

Planning controls & deliveries

The Minister wrote to local councils on 14 March 2020 making clear that they should temporarily withhold any planning enforcement action which could result in unnecessarily restricting deliveries of food and other essential goods, in order to support the response to Covid-19.

Councils have been encouraged to take a positive approach to their engagement with food retailers and distributors, as well as the freight industry, to ensure planning controls are not a barrier to deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential products over the period of disruption caused by the coronavirus.

The measure is aimed at minimising disruption to the supply chains on which our communities depend and means that additional flexibility is needed by councils, having regard to their legal obligations, so that retailers can accept deliveries throughout the day and night where necessary.

As this is a fluid and rapidly developing situation, this measure will be reviewed after the pressure from the coronavirus has reduced.

A copy of the letter issued to councils can be accessed at:

Enforcement where public houses, restaurants & cafes offer takeaway services

The Minister wrote to councils on 19 March 2020 to make it clear that they should not take unnecessary enforcement action against public houses, restaurants and cafes operating takeaway services during the coronavirus crisis.

These measures will provide vital flexibility to enable these businesses to keep operating and will ensure people are able to safely stay at home while still supporting local enterprises. 

The measures will apply to food and drinks which are also subject to other regulatory regimes including existing licensing laws for the serving of alcoholic drinks.

A copy of the letter issued to the councils can be accessed at:

Chief Planner’s updates

The Chief Planner has issued two updates to the local councils on the implications of the Covid-19 crisis on the Northern Ireland planning system. These updates provide important information and advice on the ongoing operation of the planning system over the crisis period.

The Chief Planner’s Updates will continue to be produced, as and when required, in order to provide information on particular planning issues that may be of relevance to councils.

The updates can be found at:

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