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Planning objectors will have no appeal rights, says Environment Minister Edwin Poots

A shake-up of Northern Ireland's planning system will not grant appeal rights to objectors, it has been made clear.

The planning reform initiative has been detailed to MLAs by Environment Minister Edwin Poots after being approved last week by the Stormont Executive.

Mr Poots told the Assembly that “third party appeal rights” will not be included in the measures.

Developers and other applicants can challenge refusal decisions through the planning appeals process.

But objectors — third parties — will continue to have no such rights to contest approvals.

Mr Poots said he had sought views on the issue as part of the consultation process on reform.

“The question attracted a high response and opinion was split, with almost 60% of respondents supporting the introduction of a third-party right of appeal and 40% opposing it,” the minister said.

“Most of those in favour felt that any third-party appeal rights should be restricted in some way. Many of the responses raised issues that need to be more fully explored.”

He told MLAs that, taking into account other planned changes to the system, he remained “of the view that there does not appear to be an immediate and compelling reason to proceed towards making provision for third-party appeals in the current round of planning reform proposals”.

Mr Poots added: “Further consideration of the issue will be deferred until the extensive changes to the planning system under planning reform and the transfer of functions to local government are given sufficient time to bed in.

“That will allow us to assess their impact and effectiveness before considering whether further changes may be required.”

The proposed reforms include a new “streamlined” development plan system for different areas, and “earlier engagement” with the local community on applications. Planning powers are, meanwhile, due to transfer to councils as part of a transformation of local government here.

Mr Poots also said enforcement of planning breaches was “integral to managing development”.

He said he intends to introduce legislation so that retrospective planning applications will attract “a multiple of the normal planning fee”.

However, he has ruled out making it a criminal offence to develop without first being granted planning permission.

“There was a general recognition that such a power could unfairly penalise individuals who had unknowingly or unwittingly commenced development in breach of planning legislation,” he said.

The minister added: “My department will continue to use and to consolidate its existing suite of enforcement powers and give consideration to measures that could help to ensure that levels of fines are commensurate with a breach of planning control.”

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