Belfast Telegraph

New planning law will see raft of superstore projects, claim opponents

By Linda Stewart and Sarah Rainey

Campaigners say that new planning laws could see the province flooded with large shopping centres such as the proposed John Lewis outlet at Sprucefield by linda stewart |and sarah rainey

A new planning policy proposed for Northern Ireland could flood the province with out-of-town shopping centres, it has been claimed.

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that a group of environmental experts is considering legal action to block the controversial policy, called PPS24.

The new measure, which is currently up for public consultation, would give weight to planning applications that benefit the economy.

Large-scale shopping centres and other commercial developments will be given special preference if the policy gets the green light next month.

But environmental groups say PPS24 could become a charter for developers to ignore the effects of planning on people and nature.

They claim the policy will put historic landmarks at risk and kill off the tourism industry by destroying areas of natural beauty.

James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth, said PPS24 could cause “economic failure and environmental collapse”.

“We have seen too often how property speculation and out-of-town shopping centres destroy jobs,” he said.

“Planning is supposed to exist to balance interests of people and the environment.

“This policy seems to have been written by a department that has forgotten why it exists.”

PPS24, drafted by the Department of the Environment (DoE) in January, is the only policy of its kind in Britain and Ireland.

“It gives planning officials guidance on the economic considerations to be taken into account when deciding on a new development.

A similar measure put in place by then-Environment Minister Sammy Wilson was quashed in the High Court in 2010 for having no legal basis.

With just weeks to go before PPS24 comes into force, the coalition has warned that the policy would give the green light to controversial planning applications such as the proposed John Lewis scheme for Sprucefield.

But a spokesman for the DoE last night dismissed campaigners’ concerns over the controversial proposals.

“In launching draft PPS24, the minister stated that it will not be a charter for rushing through proposals where it would otherwise be necessary to refuse planning permission,” he said. “Draft PPS24 makes it clear that full account shall be taken of the economic implications, as well as the social and environmental aspects, of a proposal.”

Meanwhile, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society and Friends of the Earth have urged people to object to the policy before the May 6 deadline.

Rita Harkin, research officer at the UAHS, said it would lead to a flood of proposals such as the Giant’s Causeway visitors’ centre.

“Following a period of intense pressure for development, now is the time for a rethink on how we grow our economy by respecting the environment and local communities,” she added.

“Planning policies should seek to encourage sustainable development for the benefit of all, not development at all costs.”

Background

PPS24 contains guidance for planning officials on the weight to be given to the economic merit of new developments.

It was first proposed in 2010, in connection with the Aurora Tower in Belfast, when the minister told planners they were missing an economic opportunity by turning it down. Campaigners say the policy will give the green light to out-of-town shopping centres and big commercial developments. The draft is open for public consultation until May 6. To submit your views, visit www.planningni.gov.uk

‘Fundamentally flawed policy’... three views of PPS24

Colm Bradley of charity Community Places said:

“The thinking behind the draft policy is flawed.

“It purports to speed up decision-making in planning but will in reality cause more confusion and slow the whole process down. It creates uncertainty which will lead to legal challenges by competing economic interests. We need to go back to the fundamental purpose of the planning system which the outgoing Assembly agreed on.

“This is sustainable development and the well-being of all communities, not the interests of those with the greatest clout at any particular time and place.”

Marcus Patton from the Hearth Housing Association said:

“This policy of putting economics above environmental and sustainable considerations is fundamentally flawed because it appears only to consider short-term economic profitability. Short-term profitability almost always comes at a long-term cost to the economy, whether it’s loss of countryside, heritage, existing jobs and businesses, or of existing assets that may become valuable in the future.

As with any form of accounting, the books must balance at the end of the year and non-monetary considerations are an essential part of any economic appraisal.”

The Northern Ireland Environment Link said:

“PPS24 is fundamentally flawed because it undermines the purpose of planning, it contradicts the Government’s commitment to sustainable development, and could lead to unacceptable and irreversible environmental damage.”

Belfast Telegraph

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