Executive accused as Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan plan yet to be given go-ahead 10 years on
A master plan for greater Belfast has "disappeared into the black hole which is the Stormont Executive", it has been claimed.
More than a decade after it was drafted, the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) was finally presented to the Executive for approval last December.
But another eight months on – and despite repeated requests by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan – it has yet to be given the go-ahead.
The plan is vitally important for the economy, because it identifies sites for retail, residential and commercial development, and will provide an overarching guide for the new super councils when they take over responsibility for planning next year.
BMAP also affects a population of around 650,000 people – 40% of Northern Ireland's total population – in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and north Down.
But in a letter from a senior Department of the Environment planning manager – sent on behalf of Mr Durkan to a lobby group – the Executive was accused of "very limited engagement" with the scheme.
"Clearly the additional hurdles placed in the way of adoption by the Executive committee are causing further delay, inconvenience, uncertainty and distress," it stated.
The letter also said Mr Durkan attempted to table drafts at Executive level on four occasions earlier this year.
But when it finally got on the agenda, a sub-group was set up in March to discuss issues surrounding the scheme.
In February of last year, high-end department store chain John Lewis pulled out of a plan to build a superstore at Sprucefield near Lisburn due to lack of agreement over it at the top of Government.
Lobbyists in favour of BMAP are frustrated.
"The plan is complete. All the required stages have been passed," the Belfast Metropolitan Residents' Group said. "It should have been adopted a year ago."
It added: "BMAP is important because the city region needs a coherent plan. It will not get one under the incoming system.
"When planning powers are devolved to councils, planning for the region will be fractured with five authorities having a say."
Dundonald Green Belt Association said the plan "appears to have disappeared into the black hole which is the Stormont Executive".
OFMDFM had not commented by the time of going to print.