Kinahan Slams 'Hurried' Planning Bill

A newly proposed Assembly Bill on the devolution of planning powers has been slammed as being too hurried.

The Ulster Unionist Environment Spokesperson Danny Kinahan has responded to the Environment Minster's announcement that planning powers in Northern Ireland are to be devolved to local councils.

Speaking after Edwin Poots, the Environment Minister said the proposed Bill would return control of planning to councils with five divisional planning offices designed around the 11 "council clusters", the South Antrim MLA (pictured) commented: "I welcome any move to re-organise local government and devolve planning powers to local councils in order to improve democratic accountability in the planning process.

"However, I do have concerns that what we have been presented with is a massive Assembly Bill with insufficient time to scrutinize it."

Mr Kinahan criticised Minister after Mr Poots he said that the Bill will be put before the Assembly as early as next week and had been already agreed by the Executive.

The Minister's speech on Tuesday had "lots of content but little detail", he noted: "It creates a wonderful expectation but I fear that expectations are being raised unnecessarily.

"I am particularly keen that we do not see a repeat of the debacle surrounding the Review of Public Administration (RPA) where much was promised but nothing delivered, in spite of years of waiting.
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"With this current Bill we are faced with very little consultation and as a result run the serious risk of an outcome which will be a Bill which does not address the fundamental problems affecting planning in Northern Ireland and which may actually make a bad situation worse.

"The Ministers speech flagged up a number of concerns for me. His proposal for new governance arrangements could suffocate councils, who can already be hesitant about taking risks, making them less likely to make big decisions."

The UU MLA said that dual mandates could also be a big stumbling block that would weigh heavily against the devolvement of powers: "Due to potential conflicts of interests it is not ideal for councillors to make decisions with a councillor's hat on, and then travel to Stormont to think as an MLA."

Speaking as a long-serving local councillor who left the Antrim Council chamber once he joined the Stormont Assembly, he said: "I welcome the proposed community planning process and the need to consult with local communities and am also keen to ensure that improvements are made to the working relationships between councils and Stormont.

"The Environment Committee looks forward to working on this Bill, but I have to say that I wish it had been brought before us much earlier.

"This job has to be done right, it is far too important to be rushed," he continued, noting that, "the people of Northern Ireland deserve better than that".

See: 'Super Councils' To Make Planning Decisions


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