07/10/2002

Nesbitt lifts planning restrictions caused by sewage problems

Environment Minister Dermot Nesbitt has confirmed that widespread planning restrictions caused by sewage problems across Northern Ireland have been lifted.

The Minister informed the Executive on Monday of his department's decision and said that after analysing the problems, a way forward had been found.

Earlier in the year 56 areas across the province had been identified as "troublesome spots", resulting in the suspension of planning applications – and as a result hundreds of jobs within the building industry were affected.

Announcing the lifting of the restrictions, Mr Nesbitt said: "In many areas, due to years of under funding, Northern Ireland’s sewerage infrastructure falls well below modern standards. Further, the European Union has ‘raised the bar’ on what these standards should be. As a result, only 35% of Northern Ireland’s sewerage system meets EU standards. This is unacceptable to me as Environment Minister, unacceptable to the EU, and causing problems.

"Therefore it was necessary for me to take a ‘time out’ to assess the full extent of the problem and to find a way forward. This involved officials from my Department together with DRD officials, taking a detailed look at numerous areas in the Province where the sewerage system at present is not acceptable.

"I know the ‘time out’ was difficult for many in the short term. But I needed detailed re-assurance from DRD’s Water Service, which is responsible for sewerage."

Welcoming the decision, Regional Development Minister, Peter Robinson, said a "sensible and pragmatic way forward" had been agreed in the move and one "which achieves a balance between Northern Ireland’s development needs and protecting the environment, which allows development to proceed in each of the areas, subject to the normal planning processes".

Mr Robinson also confirmed that work at 12 locations was already under way or due to start later in this financial year while the upgrading of the treatment works at the remaining locations was due to start in the next three years.

(MB)

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