04/02/2014

NI Planning To Adopt 'Town Centres First' Policy

The Department of the Environment has said Northern Ireland's planning system could be reformed to adopt a "town centres first" policy.

Environment Minister Mark Durkan has announced a 12-week public consultation on issues such as building in the countryside, tourism, transport, telecommunications and housing.

A new strategic policy on Town Centres and Retailing is also being proposed, which will aim to adopt a "town centre first approach for the location of future retail and other town centre uses."

The Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) will seek to speed up planning and make it "simpler", the DOE said.

Mark H Durkan said: "SPPS sets out a new planning policy framework that delivers for business, with timely decisions that encourage investment and facilitate employment whilst protecting our environment, planet and people. It provides clarity and certainty for all users of the reformed planning system. I pledged last month to speed up planning. SPPS is a key building block in achieving that pledge.

"This is an exciting time for planning. I encourage everyone with an interest to contribute their views to this important consultation through our digital on line interactive portal. By working together, we can shape planning policy to ensure an efficient and fit for purpose planning system which delivers for all. My vision is for a better environment and a stronger economy. SPPS will help achieve that."

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) welcomed the announcement.

Its Chief Executive, Glyn Roberts, said: "NIIRTA strongly welcomes this new 'Town Centre First' approach for major retail applications in the new Single Planning Policy Statement. This is something we have been campaigning for over a dozen years and is good news for local traders and town centres.

"Northern Ireland has not only the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK, but twice the UK national average. This is again supported by the GL Hearn research which was released today showing towns such as Ballymoney having a staggering 28% vacancy rate.

"We are very clear. NIIRTA want to see major retailers locate their stores in town centres to enhance them, rather than unsustainable out of town locations which destroy jobs and local businesses."

(IT/JP)

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