Northern Ireland’s planning minister has launched a stinging attack on officials in his own department for refusing permission for what would have been the tallest building on the island.
Sammy Wilson said the Planning Service’s decision to reject an application to build the 90-storey Aurora building in Belfast city centre was totally nonsensical.
He accused planners of ignoring the potential economic benefits of the project, particularly for the struggling construction industry.
“Planning officers have a role to play in kick-starting the economy and in this case they have failed and failed abysmally,” said the DUP minister.
While Mr Wilson is in charge of the department, decisions on individual applications are the responsibility of professional planners within the service.
The East Antrim Assembly member, who is also a Belfast City councillor, said if he had the power to the make the call on the Aurora he would have given it the green light. “There are still those within the planning system who see their role as being totally divorced from the well-being of the economy,” he said.
“They see their job as just ticking boxes, interpreting policies and quoting policies and don’t think they’ve a role in generating jobs, giving people a livelihood or generating economic growth.”
The city council has already asked the regional planning office in Belfast to reconsider its decision. Mr Wilson has also scheduled meetings with the office. If the planners don’t change their mind, the developers — McAlister Holdings — will have the option of going to the Planning Appeals Commission.
The planners claim the Aurora’s proposed design does not fit in with the character of the site and surrounding area on Great Victoria Street.
Mr Wilson said some planners were letting their prejudices cloud their work. “Here’s somebody prepared to invest £90 million on a unique building for the centre of Belfast and they are refused permission — you have to ask how does that make the city look to the international market?” he added.