Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Alex Attwood fights for Planning Bill

Minister accuses DUP, SF and Westminster of undermining democracy

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has vowed to get tough on problem property developers whose sites become eyesores
Environment Minister Alex Attwood has vowed to get tough on problem property developers whose sites become eyesores

Alex Attwood has been accused of political grandstanding after he launched a scathing attack on the DUP and Sinn Fein over planning reforms.

The Environment Minister said Stormont’s democratic process had been undermined after the parties joined forces to introduce controversial amendments to his Planning Bill.

The measures would allow the First and Deputy First Minister’s department to intervene and relax planning regulations by creating special economic zones. They would also restrict the ability of planning objectors to challenge approvals through the courts.

Mr Attwood accused the parties of showing a lack of respect by introducing the amendments at a late stage without explanation.

He also suggested Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’s department had been engaged in a power grab. But appearing before the OFMDFM committee, Mr McGuinness accused Mr Attwood of scaremongering.

He said: “I think it was for political grandstanding purposes and it came from a minister who has always protected his own independence from the Executive.

“He’s not a team player. He’s someone who has his own political agenda.”

The Planning Bill was brought by Mr Attwood to revamp the system, long criticised for being too slow.

However, the DUP and Sinn Fein tabled major amendments to the proposed legislation last Thursday.

Mr Attwood said he did not have a chance to raise questions on the amendments.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “The DUP and Sinn Fein came up with amendments of great significance at the very end of the Planning Bill and didn’t have the respect to the chamber to come in and explain in detail and fully what they were about, never mind answer the questions put to them by me and other members.”

The planning zone amendment follows on from a clause in the economic pact agreed between Downing Street and the Executive about establishing a new process for economically significant applications.

Mr Attwood claimed Westminster was being allowed undue influence on legislation.

He added: “On one hand the DUP and Sinn Fein have no respect for the democratic chamber, and on the other London and the DUP will decide what our law will look like and Sinn Fein will swallow it.”

Background

On Tuesday the Assembly passed a DUP and Sinn Fein amendment to the Planning Bill restricting the ability of anyone who wanted to object to a planning decision by seeking a judicial review.

If the bill is adopted this means future objectors could only go to court if they thought a decision breached human rights or European law. It came 24 hours after the Assembly also passed a DUP-Sinn Fein motion allowing the First Minister and Deputy First Minister's department to create special economic planning zones.

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