A complaint is defined as any expression of dissatisfaction by any party involved in an appeal or examination/inquiry/hearing. A justified complaint is one where there is substance in the allegation made by the complainant.
All complaints are thoroughly investigated. The complaints system gives the Commission an opportunity to learn from any errors identified and to improve practice and procedures.
Therefore the Commission will:-
- investigate complaints promptly and thoroughly; and
- provide an explanation and if necessary an apology.
The Commission cannot reconsider or make changes of substance to an appeal decision after it has been issued. Appeal decisions can only be challenged by an application for judicial review to High Court. However, the Commission may issue an amended decision or report correcting:-
- obvious typographical and textual errors; and/or
- wording which the Commission and all parties to the appeal agree cannot be right.
Procedure for Making Complaints
Complaints should be made within 6 months of the date of the Commission's decision on an appeal or within 6 months of the date of a Departmental or council decision on an examination/inquiry/hearing case.
All complaints should be made in writing and addressed to:-
Chief Administrative Officer
Planning Appeals Commission / Water Appeals Commission
87-91 Great Victoria Street
Tel: 028 9024 4710
Complaints will be acknowledged within 7 working days of receipt. Complaints will be investigated and a full reply will normally be issued within 4 weeks of receipt. Where it is not possible to issue a full reply within 4 weeks, a holding reply will be issued within that period indicating when a full response might be expected.
Complaints raising issues about the merits of a proposal which is still being considered by the Commission will not be responded to until the decision in that case has been issued. If legal proceedings are initiated while a complaint is being considered by the Commission, the matter will be addressed through the legal process and not through the complaints system.
Method of Investigation
All complaints will be investigated by the Chief Commissioner or the Deputy Chief Commissioner or by senior administrative staff not directly involved in the matter at issue, and will be replied to in writing. If dissatisfied, the complainant may request a meeting with the person or persons who investigated the complaint to discuss the response.
Independent Complaints Audit Panel
Complaints are audited by a Panel consisting of two members appointed respectively by the Royal Town Planning Institute (Northern Ireland) and the Bar of Northern Ireland. Panel members are required to have an understanding of the Northern Ireland planning process and cannot be former members of the Planning Appeals Commission or the Water Appeals Commission.
The Panel presents a report to the Chief Commissioner which is published on the Commission's website under Publications.