Advice on Planning Permission in Northern Ireland



Decisions on whether to allow proposals to build on land or change the use of buildings or land are made by the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland. These decisions are based upon referrals to planning policy documents, including but not limited to:

  • Regional development strategy
  • Planning policy statement
  • A planning strategy for rural Northern Ireland
  • Development plans

The Department of Environment strongly recommend that planning permission should be obtained (where necessary) before commencing development.


Whilst it is not a criminal offence to carry out development without first getting the necessary permission, if you carry out unacceptable development without permission, it is likely that you will have to take corrective action – which could include demolition of the building.

The Department also endeavours to ensure that planning regulations are followed once planning permission has been sought – i.e. that the development / build is in accordance with the terms of the permission.

The Department will decide the appropriate actions if planning regulations are not complied with. Normally, resolution will be attempted to be sought via discussion rather than enforcement action; one example being ‘retrospective planning permission’ being sought if it is acceptable. Alternatively formal enforcement action may be initiated.

Enforcement action usually involves the issuing of an enforcement notice, setting out the measures needed to remedy the breach and the date by which they must be implemented. You may be required to cease activities or demolish all or part of the building.

A right of appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission is available against an enforcement notice. However if an appeal is dismissed, not made and the notice becomes effective – it is then an offence not to comply with it and the Department may decide to prosecute. Enforcement proceedings are often expensive, time consuming and disruptive and for that reason the Department of Environment strongly advise that you consult with them prior to going ahead with any development and build.

Types of planning applications and permissions

Land can be purchased with some form of planning permission or indeed with no planning permission at all. It is important if you intend to build on the land, that you seek relevant advice on what is / not possible on the land, prior to any purchase.

There are a number of forms of planning permission which can be granted / applied for:

Outline planning permission: this form of permission sets out whether there is an agreement in ‘principle’ to the proposed development / build. Detailed plans are not normally required, although this is largely dependent on the nature of the application.

Once outline planning has been granted, you will need to apply for approval of the details (reserved matters) before work can begin.

Note that outline planning applications can only be made when the proposal involves the erection of buildings. They cannot be accepted for the change of use development.

Reserved Matters: Once a planning proposal for outline planning permission has been granted, a reserved matters application should be submitted to receive permission for the full details of the proposal.

The applications should fully comply with all the conditions attached to the outline planning permission and should be submitted within 3 years of outline planning permission being granted.

Full Planning Permission:  is when all detailed information has been submitted in a single application. Once approved, it grants all aspects of the proposal, although it should be noted that it may still be subject to other conditions.