30/06/2008

Planning Appeals 'Meltdown': Paisley

Both jobs and commercial life in general are set to suffer from an apparent backlog of almost 3,000 planning appeals cases that has left the whole system on the verge of "meltdown", it has been claimed.

DUP MLA Ian Paisley Jnr said that pressure on the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) is such that business opportunities and jobs may be at risk,

He claimed the PAC is struggling to cope with its workload and that some appeals may take as much as two years to reach a determination and insisted this has increasing consequences for the prosperity of the country, the environment and for many ordinary people's lives.

But, the PAC, while confirming a backlog of 2,847 cases and acknowledging the pressure, said that "meltdown is not a phrase we would use to describe the current state of play with the PAC".

A spokesman for the PAC said it was doing "everything in its power" to address the backlog - including appointing a new panel of commissioners to deal with appeals.

But, Mr Paisley said the backlog was less the fault of the PAC and more issues with the system and the lack of resources.

He had concerns too about how many cases the Planning Service does not settle but passes to appeal.

He has used one constituent's appeal, in north Antrim, and tracked it through the process - discovering that 1,577 cases lie ahead of it, dating back to October 2007.

Mr Paisley said: "Anyone lodging a planning appeal today will have to wait more than two years before a determination."

He continued: "This is staggering and will be the ruination of business and development in the Province.

"How can we seriously promote Northern Ireland as a location open to business with such a backlog.

"The Government is supposed to be having an efficiency drive and have an efficiency group in operation but it is more than apparent that the system is in virtual meltdown.

"The Executive has got to give itself over to urgently resolving this planning crisis."

Meanwhile, PAC Chief Commissioner Marie Campbell has said: "Even though the Planning Appeals Commission issued a record 1,065 appeal decisions during 2007/08, it was unable to make a significant impact on its heavy backlog of appeals awaiting decision.

"The PAC continues to receive an exceptionally high number of appeals, many of which are very complex.

"This has resulted in a large backlog in its decisions and an inability for the PAC to meet its clearance targets, even though the commission increased the number of decisions which it issued during the period April '07 to March '08.

"If the current trends on intake (of appeals) continue and with additional resources, the commission aims to reduce the backlog significantly in the coming year."

But she also noted that dealing with the large number of objections which have been lodged against the area plans Province-wide "has placed a heavy burden on the resources of the PAC" and acknowledged that long delays in deciding appeals "will remain for some time", while "scarce resources must be carefully balanced".

(BMcC)

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