07/10/2009

'Gerrymandering' Fears On Planning

Planning issues could be hindered by the review of Northern Ireland's local authorities, it has been claimed.

Foyle assemblywoman Mary Bradley suggested the reallocation of council areas could lead to unbalanced political representation, or "gerrymandering".

The SDLP MLA said the boundaries agreed by Stormont will see more than 100,000 nationalists moved into predominantly unionist council areas, after the Review of Public Administration is implemented.

Mrs Bradley has tabled an Assembly question to the Environment Minister Edwin Poots, asking for assurances the reformed planning policy will contain a strong governance framework.

She said this is necessary to ensure that, where one political party dominates a given council, this party will not have undue influence over planning decisions.

"There is a real danger that because of new council boundaries agreed by Sinn Fein and DUP, many nationalists will be moved into unionist controlled councils," said the MLA.

"This raises further concerns that after the reform of the planning policy, councils dominated by a particular council will be unduly influenced in planning decisions.

"Three out of 26 councils that are currently, or will be, under nationalist majority are going to be under unionist control because of that deal.

"No council areas will be moving from majority unionist control to majority nationalist control."

Ms Bradley added: "The SDLP will work hard to ensure that the planning system is not open to abuse from this gerrymandering and I call on the Environment Minister to make clear those assurances."

(PR/KMcA)

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