15/12/2010

Planning Bill 'Rammed Through', Says UUP

A Bill to transfer planning powers to councils is fundamental to the development of local democracy, the NI Environment Minister, Edwin Poots said on Tuesday.

However, the speed of its Assembly progress has been heavily criticised as not allowing enough time for scrutiny.

Danny Kinahan, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Spokesperson for the Environment (pictured) has raised significant concerns about the time available to adequately scrutinize the 240 clause Bill being put forward by the DUP Minister Mr Poots, who, speaking before the Assembly debate on the Planning Bill, said: "The proposals in this Bill will transform our planning system.

"They pave the way for the transfer of planning functions to local government within a timescale and in circumstances to be determined by the Executive.

"They will make the planning system more effective and speed up decision making," he claimed.

"The new Councils will be Planning Authorities and will be responsible for drawing up Local Development Plans and for decisions on most planning applications within their respective areas.

"Each Council, will work with local people to create a clear vision of what its area should be like in future.

"The Council will draw up a 15-year Local Development Plan to show how the vision will be realised and what types of development will go where.

"Planning impacts on all our lives. This Bill therefore gives local people a real chance to influence planning. Councils will have to publish statements explaining to everyone in the community how they can have their say in the planning process," he continued, noting that "developers will have to take account of the views of the community when they are drawing up applications".

He also said that not all planning powers would move to Councils and that the policy framework will still be a matter for Ministers.

"The Department of the Environment will advise the Councils on the practical aspects of planning and it will have oversight and performance management responsibilities. It will also determine the most complex planning applications."

Initially introduced to the Assembly on 6 December, the Planning Bill is said to be a key step in the reform of planning and local government - as set out by the Minister in his Statement to the Assembly on November 30.
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However, Danny Kinahan, the Ulster Unionist Party Spokesperson for the Environment, welcomed the Second Stage of the Planning Bill, but has also raised significant concerns about time available to adequately scrutinize the 240 Clause Bill.

"Devolving planning powers to local councils is long overdue and a welcome step forward. An efficient, effective and responsive planning system is in the interests of business, communities and individuals across Northern Ireland.

"However, the then Environment Minister, Arlene Foster, launched a review of Northern Ireland's planning system over three years ago - a review which reported in the summer of 2009.

"People will quite rightly ask why it has taken Edwin Poots so long to publish his Bill. Why has the Minister waited until the end of this Assembly’s mandate to introduce his Bill?

"This complex and sizeable Bill will affect and attract a significant amount of interest from a large number of groups across Northern Ireland.

"It is crucial that those opinions are heard and that the Bill is adequately and openly scrutinized. In the time left to the Assembly I really cannot see how the satisfactory level of scrutiny needed to examine 240 clauses and seven schedules will be able to take place," he said.

"There is no timetable for reform and amalgamation of Councils, however, the model of reforming planning appears to be based on an eleven council model integrated with five area planning offices. We were told that continuing with Local Government Reform was unaffordable in the spring so what implications does this have for the proposed planning reforms?

"I welcome the fact that this Bill aims to create a planning system which is quicker, clearer, and more accessible, with resources better matched to priorities.

"However, it is extremely disappointing that on the one hand the DUP consulted Local Government Reform to death only to turn around and ram planning reform through the Assembly.

"If this Bill fails it will not be due to the failures of the Environment Committee but because of the failure of the Minister. This is another prime example of bad Government by the DUP," the UUP MLA fumed.

See: 'Super Councils' To Make Planning Decisions

(BMcC/GK)

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