Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Balance is key in planning debate

One of the most contentious issues in Northern Ireland is the planning laws, and it has surfaced again in the proposed Planning Bill. Anna Lo, chairperson of the Stormont Planning Committee, has claimed that Environment Minister Alex Attwood and his officials have been favouring economic factors rather than the protection of the environment.

There are also allegations that Mr Attwood is having his "arm twisted" on this subject by senior Executive colleagues, and the minister has ignored the wishes of those who want to protect the environment. Typically, Mr Attwood reacted strongly. He says there is no drive to override environmental issues in the search for greater prosperity.

However, the highly-regarded Anna Lo remains adamant. She says: "I do support economic development but it has to be balanced against environmental protection and social wellbeing."

The general public may be at a loss about who to believe, partly because the issues are so complex.

However, there is one word in Anna Lo's statement which might provide a way forward for everyone. This is the word "balance" and it is clear that there ought to be a balance between the need for jobs and economic development, and also a need to act in the best interests of our fragile environment.

These issues were well highlighted recently in the controversy over the proposed new golf complex on the north coast. Those who back it have pointed to the considerable economic gains in such a project, but many other people and groups, including the National Trust, have opposed it strongly on environmental grounds.

The issue has now been decided in the courts, which have backed the developers, but the point should be made that those who opposed such a project, including the National Trust, had every right to do so. These are not simple issues, but a policy of jobs at all costs will be self-defeating.

As in so much of our public life in Northern Ireland, the key to the future is to seek balance.

Otherwise we will face chaos.

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