Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Planning Bill row: Horns pulled in over after ministerial sit-down

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness met with Environment Minister Mark H Durkan
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness met with Environment Minister Mark H Durkan

Tempers appear to have cooled over the Executive stand-off after Environment Minister Mark H Durkan axed the new Planning Bill.

The SDLP minister held a 'summit' with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who had threatened to hijack the abandoned legislation to help attract new investment and alter the international image of our sluggish planning system.

The meeting, just ahead of the full Executive session last Thursday, lasted all of 15 minutes and was described as "cordial" and "businesslike".

Which is the way things tends to go on the Hill.

Weeks of headlines – First Minister and Deputy First Minister attempt an unprecedented power grab; senior figures in SDLP warn if they do it would force the party to consider quitting the Executive – and then a fairly routine and constructive discussion.

First Minister Robinson used question time to signal the summit was taking place after weeks of off-the-record briefings in the aftermath of Durkan ditching the Bill – with the ubiquitous Attorney General John Larkin weighing in to say the expert legal advice Durkan received was "mistaken".

The DUP leader confirmed: "A number of options are open to us. One of those options is that a Private Member's Bill could be brought forward. Another option is that another minister could bring the Bill forward."

After warning of the relentless media focus on Executive rows the last thing the First Minister wants is yet another stalemate.

Senior sources said the outcome of the meeting was that special advisers are to hold a further meeting to see if the deadlock can be broken.

Mr Durkan has agreed to attempt to show how further improvements within the existing planning system can be achieved.

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