The Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) was established as an independent appeals body in 1973 when planning powers were centralised in a Government Department. The Commission now operates under the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 and its functions fall into the following two broad categories arising from decisions and proposals of Assembly Departments - Department of the Environment (DoE), Department for Regional Development (DRD), Department for Social Development (DSD), Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).
The Commission receives financial and administrative support from OFMDFM its "sponsor" department. Although OFMDFM exercise somes functions which may involve it appearing before the Commission, the Commission is wholly independent in terms of decision making and the operation of the appeals and inquiry/hearing process. This process meets the requirements of Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) relating to the right to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which may be viewed on our Publications Page, sets out the relationship between OFMDFM and the Planning and Water Appeals Commissions. The MOU recognises the need for accountability in terms of OFMDFM's sponsorship role in providing resources and services while protecting the independence of The Commission.
- Decisions on Appeals – the Commission makes decisions on all appeals against Departmental decisions on a wide range of planning and environmental matters.
- Hearing and Reporting on Public Inquiries/Hearings – the Commission makes recommendations on a wide range of cases referred to it by the Department. The final decision in these matters is taken by the relevant Department.
Most of our cases arise from the work of the Planning Service, an agency of the Department of the Environment(DoE). If you want more information on the Planning Service please visit their web site.
At present the Commission has 74 functions under various pieces of legislation, but principally The Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. To find out more about these see our Functions page.
All members of the Planning Appeals Commission (except Panel Commissioners) are also members of the Water Appeals Commission. To find out more visit our Water Appeals page.
The Commission does not make planning policy as this is the role of the Department. However, in carrying out its functions the Commission has a statutory duty to take account of policy. Our role is to interpret and apply policy and we do this by applying our corporate knowledge, expertise, experience and common sense within the context of information gathered during the appeal or public inquiry/hearing process. This is often referred to as our quasi-judicial role which simply means that although our decisions are not judicial in nature, they must be made in a judicial manner, in other words in an evidential context.
The decision on an appeal may be made by a single Commissioner (called an individual decision) or by a panel of not fewer than four Commissioners (called a collective decision). Based on published criteria the Chief Commissioner decides if the decision in the appeal should be an individual or a collective decision. A single Commissioner appeal may also be recovered by the Chief Commissioner for a collective decision at any point before it is issued by the PAC. The DoE and the appellant will be informed of the type of decision to be made.
The Commission meets on Mondays to consider and discuss reports. Decisions are made on the basis of a majority vote with the Chairman having a casting vote. The Commission may not always agree with the recommendations of Commissioners but must reach its decisions on the basis of the information recorded in their reports.
Commissioners are not involved in any way in cases in which they have a financial, personal or other interest which might give rise to a conflict or potential conflict of interests.
Commission decisions are final and, once they are issued, they cannot be amended, withdrawn or substituted by a new decision. Our decisions, however, are open to challenge on a point of law by application to the High Court for judicial review. The Commission also operates a complaints system to deal with complaints about how the Commission has handled an appeal or inquiry. For more information visit our Complaints System page