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Future planning for Northern Ireland councils is a serious business

I read with disappointment your article (News, Nov 21) on the study visits some councils took to learn about the planning process in advance of powers transferring to local government in April 2015.

Assuming responsibility for planning is a significant change for councils. Councillors will be operating within a strict Ethical Standards and Code of Conduct framework. Failure to comply could see fines, disqualification or jail. Pleading ignorance will not be an excuse.

The public expect us to be well trained and ready to deliver a fair and transparent planning service. Gaining experience of how planning is delivered at first hand was a sensible approach and proved to be invaluable.

The Mid Ulster delegation left at 4am to get a ferry to Cairnryan, travelling to Irvine in Scotland, where we observed the deliberations and decisions of a committee and met the senior planning team for discussions on all aspects of their work.

The next morning we toured enterprise zones, residential projects and saw directly the importance of planning policy making a positive contribution to the local economy.

At 1pm we were back on the bus to Cairnryan, back on the boat and back to Cookstown for 7pm. The 30 hours we spent in Scotland were no junket.

To suggest such visits were arranged to allow councillors to learn how to adjudicate on "loft conversions" was flippant, disingenuous and demonstrates a complete disregard for the seriousness, impact and importance of the planning function.

And while you billed the piece as an exclusive, details of the study visit undertaken by Mid Ulster, including the cost, were published on our website as part of the record of a meeting held to agree the matter in October.

COUNCILLOR CATHAL MALLAGHAN

Presiding councillor (chair)

Mid Ulster District Council

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