Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Bosses fume over projects stuck in planning limbo

Business leaders have hit back angrily after Planning Service said there was no longer a backlog in planning applications.

They listed the projects that have rested in “development hell” over the years as the economic boom evaporated and the country sank into recession — some still waiting for the green light from planners after as much as eight years.

It comes as the Telegraph launches its campaign to get Northern Ireland moving again by pushing forward projects that could kickstart the economy.

The DOE told this newspaper there is no longer a backlog in planning applications, yet business leaders questioned why it takes so long to get a project approved here, compared to the rest of the UK.

Janice Gault, chief executive of Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, cited three major tourism developments that have been languishing for two or three years — the Wellington Park project, which would see the Belfast hotel demolished and replaced with a mixed use development, the Favour Royal project, a resort-style destination in Aughnacloy, and a hotel and chalet development in Co Down.

“These have taken two or three years and cost the developers a considerable amount of money,” she said. “There is a backlog. I don’t know how long, but there is a backlog.”

“It needs to be a lot simpler. People in business would be prepared to pay more for a faster service,” Ms Gault said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman from a major international chain, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Telegraph of the frustration of seeing projects in England being approved in a fraction of the time they are here.

“There are two kinds of planning application there — major and minor — and the time period is eight weeks for a minor scheme and 13 weeks for a major scheme,” he said. “An application would take about a year to go through in Northern Ireland.

Iris Robinson, MP for Strangford, says the Castlebawn retail development in Newtownards has the potential to provide up to 2,000 jobs, on top of the 600 construction jobs required to build the Tesco store alone — but has been in limbo for years.

“Having been involved with the Castlebawn project since 2001, I have witnessed the developer jump through every hoop that was requested of them as part of what had already been a very protracted and frustrating application process,” she said.

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