Michael Corr, creative director of PLACE, the Built Environment Centre for Northern Ireland, discusses newly devolved planning powers
What are the major forces shaping Northern Ireland development in the coming years?
With Northern Ireland’s planning system devolving to 11 new district councils in 2015, the whole system of planning and development is set to change. These functions are currently divided between a number of government departments and the key challenge in the coming years is to make joined-up, coherent development plans, in a politically and physically divided context. It is a key part of our role at PLACE to help make that happen.
How can architects benefit from devolved planning powers and what new skills will be needed?
Architects with diverse skills and an understanding of the bigger picture of planning, architecture, public realm and urban design will be in a position to help shape the future of Belfast and Northern Ireland. Jobs are already appearing for architects and urban designers with these skills. Apply.
Will the new planning system help cities such as Belfast develop a coherent long-term vision?
The transfer of planning and regeneration back to local government will not in itself deliver a coherent long-term vision but it does provide the means to achieve it. We must be mindful, however, that Belfast has yet to adopt the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015, which has been in draft form since 2004. It is vital that by 2015 local governments can run with their new functions and the team at PLACE are currently meeting with all government departments, Belfast City Council and community groups to assist with this process.
Would Northern Ireland benefit from more large-scale landmark schemes like the Maze Prison overhaul or Titanic Quarter?
Northern Ireland would benefit from significant investment in housing, its community, public spaces and the centres of cities such as Belfast. In terms of any future large-scale landmarks, it is essential to get the procurement of these projects right, to ensure they are of the highest possible quality and work with the city. I appreciate the benefits that shiny new buildings can bring, but let’s also ensure we get the basics right.
What other hopes are on the horizon for Northern Ireland practices?
With the changes that are happening in Northern Ireland there is a real opportunity for different kinds of practice to emerge. In the next five years I anticipate we will begin to see the emergence of new practices in Northern Ireland that are strategically clever and politically and socially engaged, as well as being able to make great buildings and public spaces. PLACE is here to support that.