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Planning service not fit for purpose, says Edwin Poots

Details can today be revealed of a withering attack by Stormont Minister Edwin Poots on a high-profile wing of his own department.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that the DUP Environment Minister wrote to the Planning Service late last year expressing his deep dissatisfaction with its performance. His hard-hitting reprimand is understood to have used the phrase “not fit for purpose” and to have described the processing of planning applications as “lethargic”.

The Department of the Environment is making no comment on the correspondence, and has turned down a Freedom of Information request for its release.

According to sources, it was sent to the head of the Planning Service — an agency of the DoE — in November.

It is understood Mr Poots was demanding faster progress on the processing of major development proposals.

These are classified as Article 31 applications, where planners bring recommendations to the minister for a final decision.

His letter is said to have cited the priority the Stormont Executive attaches to the economy. It also referred to public dissatisfaction with the Planning Service.

In addition, it is believed Mr Poots questioned the contribution of the agency to a cost-cutting push within the department.

The DUP has held the DoE portfolio since the restoration of devolution in 2007.

In refusing to release the letter sent by Mr Poots, the DoE cited a commonly-used exemption under Freedom of Information legislation. It permits non-disclosure on the grounds of protecting “the effective conduct of public affairs”.

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