Planning Law

Established over two decades ago, Carson McDowell’s planning law team exists in recognition of the need amongst its diverse client portfolio to deliver specific and tailored advice in the specialist area of Northern Irish planning law. With national and European jurisprudence and legislation on planning issues emerging on a near daily basis, the provision of planning law advice in Northern Ireland requires the expertise of lawyers specialising in this increasingly complex area.

The planning law team at Carson McDowell is the largest team of specialist planning lawyers in Northern Ireland, with each of the team members practising exclusively in the fields of planning and environmental law.

What we do

  • The instigation and defence of judicial reviews of planning decisions
  • The co-ordination of major planning applications
  • Advice on the form, content and lawfulness of environmental statements
  • Advice on the form, content and lawfulness of strategic environmental assessments
  • Advice on the form, content and lawfulness of habitats regulations assessments
  • The preparation of planning and roads agreements
  • Representation of clients at area plan inquiries, roads inquiries and planning appeals
  • Advice on comprehensive development legislation
  • Advice on planning conditions and lawful amendment of applications
  • Making, opposing, and monitoring of applications for planning permission
  • Advice on areas of special control including legislation and case law relating to conservation areas, listed buildings and historic monuments
  • Advising on all aspects of planning legislation, jurisprudence and planning process
  • Planning due diligence pursuant to the acquisition and financing of renewable energy developments in Northern Ireland
  • Planning due diligence - including due diligence pursuant to the acquisition of real estate development companies and assets, energy from waste plants, and the financing of such acquisitions of business operating in Northern Ireland for local and international investors

What Others Say About Us

Chambers and Partners UK 2019

What the team is known for

Continues to be a go-to team for clients facing complex planning law challenges, including judicial reviews and appeals, as well as planning inquiries. Able to handle the planning aspects of sizeable infrastructure projects such as port and airport developments. Advises both public and private sector groups. Recent work includes handling the planning aspects of large energy infrastructure projects, including renewable energy projects.


Clients say: "They're excellent in tailoring their legal advice to being absolutely practical to what we need. They're generous with their knowledge and time, and go a lot further than just giving out legal advice."

Another client says: "They're very good: they are proactive, quick to respond, and have good knowledge and credentials."

Work highlight

Acted for the system operator of Northern Ireland in co-ordinating its planning application for a 34 km project to connect the electricity grids of the Republic of Ireland with Northern Ireland. The project is valued at more than £120 million.

Notable practitioners

"Star performer" Gary McGhee continues to serve as head of the firm's planning team. He acts on both contentious and non-contentious matters, including major infrastructure and energy projects. An impressed client says: "He's extremely thorough and detailed, but also an excellent strategist. He's fully engaged with the work he does and is great fun to work with."

Grant McBurney acts on significant infrastructure projects and mixed-use developments. He is experienced in handling contentious work and has recently represented clients in judicial reviews and inquiries. Clients appreciate that he has "great knowledge and a lot of experience locally."

The Legal 500 2018

What the team is known for

Carson McDowell’s planning team "combines unparalleled expertise with an unsurpassed ability to deliver", according to clients.


The "client-focused, responsive and commercially aware" group is very active in the infrastructure and energy sectors.

Work highlights

Recent work includes handling planning applications and judicial reviews as well as obtaining regulatory approvals for electricity pylon applications, site redevelopment for educational facilities, exploratory drilling, and road construction. In a key matter, the team represented SONI, Northern Ireland’s electricity transmission system operator, in a successful planning application for a multi-million pound project consisting of 100 electricity pylons and a new substation to connect the electricity grids of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In another mandate, the group is acting for Galantas in a judicial review challenge brought against a planning application granted to the company authorising the extension of its gold mine in Omagh; the case is being heard at the Court of Appeal. On the non-contentious side, the team is advising Lake Torrent on a planning application for a £30m motor racing circuit in County Tyrone.

Notable practitioners

The "extremely knowledgeable and experienced" Gary McGhee leads the department; he attracts praise for his "ability to cut through complexity and deliver clean and practical advice". Associate Sarah Dunlop, who is "really hard-working and extremely personable", is also recommended. Grant McBurney made partner in June 2017.