Planning Law

Established over two decades ago, Carson McDowell’s Planning Law Team exists in recognition of the need amongt 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 NI requires the expertise of lawyers specialising in this increasingly complex area.

The Planning Law Team in Carson McDowell is the largest team of specialist planning lawyers in NI, with each of the five team members practising exclusively in the fields of planning and environmental law.

What We Do

Set out below are just some of the areas in which Carson McDowell's Planning Law Team provides specialist, practical and strategic advice:

  • 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 NI; and
  • 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 NI 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.

Strengths

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."


Chambers and Partners UK 2018

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.

Strengths

"I rate them extremely highly," says a client, continuing: "I am full of praise for their work. They performed excellently, and I felt in safe hands, getting very concise advice."

A source calls the team a "very good judicial review and contentious planning practice with big, high-profile cases."

Work highlights

Advised Lagan Group, Northstone (NI) and other companies on the appeal of an enforcement notice relating to the extraction of sand from Lough Neagh. The firm also successfully defended a judicial review brought by Friends of the Earth in relation to the same issue.

Co-ordinated a planning application by the System Operator for Northern Ireland for a 34 km project consisting of 104 new electricity pylons and a new substation connecting the electricity grids of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Significant clients

Elgin Energy, Galantas, Tesco, SGN Gas, Belfast International Airport.

Notable practitioners

Planning team leader Gary McGhee regularly represents clients in planning judicial reviews and is well known and respected in the market. One interviewee describes him as "an excellent planning and environmental lawyer with acute technical knowledge and strong commercial sense." A client adds: "He is very flexible, engaging and available."

Grant McBurney has a broad practice, which includes advising clients in the transport and port sectors, as well as local government bodies. "He is very personable and easy to work with," say sources.

Sarah Dunlop has recently assisted the team's clients with several planning judicial reviews and earns praise for her "extremely diligent" approach.

Chambers and Partners UK 2017

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. Able to handle the planning aspects of sizeable infrastructure projects such as port and airport developments. Advises both public and private sector groups.

Work highlights

Advised Elgin Energy on all planning matters relating to the development of a 50 MW solar farm near Ballymena.

Achieved planning permission for a private visitors' centre next to Dunluce Castle in County Antrim.

Notable practitioners

Grant McBurney attracts praise for "the work he does and the time he devotes" to his clients. Sources know him to be "a very strong associate" in this area, as demonstrated by his expert handling of renewable energy and waste project planning matters.

Sarah Dunlop works on an array of planning and environmental matters. Sources say: "She is a phenomenally hard worker and has a real grasp of the issues." Another impressed interviewee notes that "she is red-hot on the detail."

Gary McGhee maintains a strong market reputation for his excellent planning practice. He is regularly instructed to advise on high-profile planning matters, including renewable energy projects. He is also an expert in retail and housing planning.

Significant clients

Port of Belfast, Belfast International Airport, EirGrid, System Operator for Northern Ireland, Gaelectric.

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.

Strengths

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 multimillion-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.

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