Residents living in a south Belfast conservation area have vowed to campaign on after their opportunity for “an even playing field” with developers was quashed by the DUP’s veto last month.
Last Wednesday evening (April 6), residents across the district gathered at St John’s Church on Malone Road to question MLAs on why, despite cross-party support, the Planning Reform Bill excludes third party rights and the use of stop motions.
Mr Patrick McCrossan, chair of South Belfast Residents Association said: “We have been left without a voice. Developers have a right to appeal a planning decision, but residents still have no right to appeal — even if the wrong decision has been made and residents have every chance of winning that appeal.
“The reason for vetoing the amendment given by Mr Poots was that the introduction of pre-application consultation between developers and communities would be sufficient to ensure residents’ interests were safeguarded.
However, as MLA Anna Lo pointed out, pre- application consultation is confined to major and regional development.
This means that residential development which mostly concerns our residents will not be included under that umbrella.
She said: “This amendment of a third party right of appeal was, in its terms proposed, very limited indeed. But yet we were denied that right.”
MLA candidates Lo (Alliance), Conall McDevitt (SDLP), Michael McGimpsey (UUP), Alex Maskey (Sinn Fein) and MP Alasdair McDonnell were all vocal in their annoyance at the DUP’s use of the veto.
Mr Maskey said: “This motion to protect residents rights was in its most limited form and had cross party support — for the DUP to use this veto was plainly wrong. The veto wasn’t created to be used in this way. However, I do feel the Planning Reform Bill is better than what it was before. We have also secured to have it reviewed in three years time, not five years as what was proposed.”
No DUP MLA’s were present at the meeting, however DUP councillor candidate Christopher Stalford did attend and addressed the floor.
He said: “The reason behind the decision is that Northern Ireland has the slowest planning system in the western Europe. To instead choose to bulk up the pre-application stage, to front load the planning system, is in favour of people who have concerns about a development.
“The other issue raised of having a third party right of appeal included in the planning reform could mean it is open to corruption. I like to think I have a fairly consistent record in the community. I have always defended residents when developers have acted outside their remit.
“As part of the reforms, it will be democratically elected councillors who are making decisions on planning applications. People who don’t like decisions taken have a recourse through the ballot box.”