[full]The Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 provides for the transfer of the majority of planning functions from central government to district councils. It also brings forward a number of reforms to the planning system.
Its unclear how this will all play out and at what pace. The "trial period" isn't specific. We have heard that the planners themselves will most likely remain in their central offices and carry on as before but more focused on the areas individual characteristics and needs (I hope) during any trial period. Local councilors might actual gain some teeth when it comes to planning matters. Currently MLA's & MP's seam to be the only elected representatives who carry clout on difficult cases relating to policy.
This lack of clout has in my opinion always broke the democratic chain with regards to planning. In England, Scotland, Wales & Ireland all Planning is local council run. Run by people who know the area and its needs. They work closely with building control, often out of the same office. Those planning officers are under the same roof as the councilors they answer to. They then answer to the electorate and democracy works.
It won't we easy for the councilors either. If plans are refused by the Planning officer, they can be referred to a council appeal. Here our elected representatives will be expected to take the full context of the planning policies into account much as the Planning Appeals Commission currently does. Then take a vote. Currently all local councils have a tendency to have a blanket support of all planning applications unless their is considerable public concerns. Tough and unpopular calls will have to be made to retain the character of the local area and often it will be councilors making that call. Lets hope your local councilors are up to the task!