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Fracking banned in Northern Ireland for the first time

By Claire Williamson

Published 28/09/2015

Protesters at the Belcoo anti-fracking demonstration in Fermanagh
Protesters at the Belcoo anti-fracking demonstration in Fermanagh

Fracking has been banned for the first time in Northern Ireland - the environment minister has announced in a new planning blueprint.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan made the announcement in his strategic planning policy statement (SPPS) which is essentially the "go to guide" for everyone involved in the local planning system.

It provides policy on key issues such as town centres, retail development, building in the countryside, tourism and telecommunications and housing.

The SPPS reduces 20 separate planning policy statements to one. It consolidates over 800 pages of existing policy in to a single document in a bid to "brings clarity and certainty to important planning matters throughout the North".

Within the SPPS Mr Durkan has for the first time set out in black and white a no to fracking policy.

He said this will "only change in the future if the Department is satisfied that there is sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts of fracking".

Mr Durkan said: “Publishing the SPPS unlocks development potential, supports job creation and will aid economic recovery but not at the expense of our planet, environment and people.

“Significantly for the first time, no to fracking is actually enshrined in policy unless there is sufficient and robust evidence of its safety on all environmental impacts. I believe this is a sensible and reasonable approach.

“The SPPS introduces a revised strategic direction for Town Centre and Retailing Policy. It advocates a ‘town centres first’ approach to the location of future retailing and town centre uses which will support and sustain vibrant town centres across the North.

“The SPPS will enable councils to be flexible in bringing forward planning policy tailored to local circumstances through their new Local Development Plans.

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“The overall objective of the planning system is to further sustainable development and improve well-being for the people of the North. I believe that planning is fundamentally about creating and enhancing shared space, places where communities flourish and enjoy a sense of belonging, both now and into the future.

"I am confident that the SPPS and the return of planning functions to councils will help achieve that."

On producing the document Mr Durkhan said: "This key document will help ensure that the planning system delivers for all now and for future generations.”

Welcoming the publication of the SPPS the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Director for Northern Ireland Roisin Willmott said it was "good news for Northern Ireland".

She said: "The much anticipated SPPS will be a catalyst for positive change on the ground. It will greatly aid the preparation of Councils' new local development plans, providing a clear, practical and integrated policy framework for good decisions in the long term public interest.”

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DUP Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said: "Mark Durkan’s latest announcement on fracking is the latest in a flurry of activity from the previously dormant Minister. It is not a coincidence however that most of his recent announcements have all been on issues which are controversial and cross-cutting and therefore should come before the Northern Ireland Executive.

"Fracking is one such area where he simply does not have the power to take a decision unilaterally. Indeed, to believe that it is possible to move ahead with such a move would probably be considered as ‘rogue’ by many people.

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"How regularly we have heard Mr Durkan and his colleagues talk about the need to take decisions based on science and the evidence. He comes to this issue however with an entirely closed mind, and expects people to completely ignore any potential economic and employment impact from the extraction, and potential spin-off for other industries."

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