NI Board’s Aging IT System Revealed as Main Cause of Planning Delays

Microsoft engineers had to be tasked with fixing a flatlining computer system in Lisburn in response to scheduling portal issues.

The aging IT system has been identified as one of the causes of delays in planning decisions at the local council.

Details of the failing Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council (LCCC) system have come to light following a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) stating that the Northern Ireland planning system did not work.

UUP Alderman Jim Dillon pointed out that the finger of blame for the delays had been pointed at council members without public knowledge of the failing computer system.

“I’m worried because, on the street, those who ask to plan don’t know that the system is bad, but [instead] I think advisers are unaware and not up to the job,” he said.

“We work as reasonably as possible, but it can certainly be improved.”

The NIAO report, released in February, found that the entire planning system is not operating efficiently or providing value for money, with concerns regularly raised about decisions.

It is said to be unsustainable and must change, with auditors warning an ineffective system risks economic damage to Northern Ireland.

Significant delays have also been seen in single-family housing in the countryside, with the advice withdrawn from the Minister of Assembly last year without any review since.

The cost of the planning process has also not increased with inflation.

LCCC planning manager Conor Hughes hinted at a variety of reasons for the planning delays.

“I’m not saying lawyers take longer than planners…” Mr. Hughes said. “The council’s new computer system should be operational by mid-October.

“We were having issues with the Northern Ireland planning portal. Some parts of the system were failing. It actually took Microsoft to find a solution. It was related to the age of the system.

“Much of it is run through Internet Explorer, with parts unsupported after June and nothing after November.

“There is a certain urgency in time. The sooner the new system is up and running, the better it will be for all of us.

Gordon K. Morehouse