07/09/2011

Attwood Rejects PPS 24 Planning Policy

A controversial planning law has been shelved, with the withdrawal receiving a warm welcome.

The Stormont Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, has rejected the PPS 24 planning policy after 'listening to the public, business groups and the
 commercial sector'.

The Planning Policy Statement 24 (PPS 24) legislation suggested that the economic implications of a planning application should be taken into account.

Since the planning policy was put forward for consideration a wealth of debate has surrounded it.

In April of this year The Belfast Telegraph revealed that a group of environment experts were even considering legal action to block it from being published.

Meanwhile campaigners said that the new planning laws could see the province flooded with large shopping centres such as the proposed John Lewis outlet at Sprucefield.

For this reason the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has welcomed the announcement.

NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: "While NIIRTA put forward some detailed proposals to the consultation on this, we believe Minister Attwood has made the right decision not proceed with PPS 24.

"We were concerned that developers and the multiples would have used PPS 24 as reason to push through more unsustainable out of town superstore applications which could cause considerable damage to town centres"

In fact, according to the statement by Minister Attwood the majority of those who responded to the public consultation opposed the policy.

In reference to those who did support the policy, the Minister said: "Many of those who were in favour considered that the content of the draft did not materially move the issue forward and that the content was imprecise and lacked definition.

"Many rightly argued that economic considerations are already a factor in planning decisions and are already dealt with in a balanced way alongside other material considerations, including social and environmental factors."

The residents' umbrella group, Belfast City Airport Watch (BCAW) has also happily received the news that the Minister is not passing the planning legislation.
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This group had been concerned that the draft planning guidance on 'economic considerations' could have paved the way for George Best Belfast City Airport to be permitted its long-sought runway extension.

Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of BCAW's Steering Group said: "We're so glad that the Minister listened to the representations made by many residents' and environmental groups about this document which was, effectively, a charter for developers.

"Had this document come into force, it would have completely shifted the goal posts with regard to the runway extension and many other controversial development proposals with potential negative environmental impacts."

Announcing the move, Minister Attwood concluded: "As no weight has ever been given to draft PPS 24 in the determination of planning applications, my decision will have no impact on planning decisions already made, nor on consideration of those applications currently in the planning system.

"But as I have made clear, I aim to create a planning environment which is positive to business and reform planning to make it more fit for business," he said.

Opposition

Not everyone has been positive though, as the North Down MLA Peter Weir has criticised the decision by the Environment Minister not to proceed with the introduction of PPS 24 which would give greater weighting to economic issues in planning decisions.

The DUP's Mr Weir, who is a member of the Assembly's Environment Committee said that the decision was a blow to attempts to revitalise the local economy.

Speaking today Mr Weir said: "Businesses who have had experience of the planning system in Northern Ireland will testify how frustrating it can be, and ultimately how it can hinder investment here.

"It was for that reason that DUP Ministers within DoE sought to begin a process of planning reform, we wanted the planning system to be more responsive and effective when it comes to assisting efforts to rebuild the Northern Ireland economy."

He added that: "Alex Attwood's decision not to proceed with the implementation of PPS 24 however has dealt a blow to the efforts to bring greater investment and more jobs into Northern Ireland.

"The Minister tells us that he wants to achieve quicker decisions for business yet amongst his claims about what he would like to do in the future, there is nothing specific as to how he will help businesses fight through the problems they face within the planning system."

(LB/BMcC)

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