Belfast Telegraph

Let's build future for all of us

By Peter Carr

For weeks the normally staid world of Northern Irish planning has been buzzing. The reason? A far-reaching new policy document – the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS).

Next April planning and regeneration powers will pass to our 11 new councils. The SPPS, the public consultation for which closes today, will determine how these powers are used.

To describe it as far-reaching is an understatement. It will replace all planning policy. Planning case law will be swept away.

The Department of the Environment is presenting this as a consolidation of policy; a bonfire of red tape.

However, for many it is alarming. Communities (rightly) see this red tape as one of their few protections against unfettered building.

The document scopes out other changes. Councils will make area plans and policies. Communities will acquire a statutory role in plan-making.

The department hopes this will unlock local creativity, giving area plans a genuinely democratic mandate. Sceptics fear that it will produce a race to the bottom, in which councillors fall over one another to suck up to developers.

Can the SPPS avoid gombeenery and creeping greenfieldism? It can. But it must offer councils a clearer and more ambitious plan-making framework.

Progressive concepts, like Compact Urban Forms and the Brownfield Build Target, missing from this draft, must reclaim their position at the heart of policy-making.

Windfalls should take their due place within phased plans, in the context of a regulatory environment appropriate to a modern democracy.

Regeneration – as opposed to the revival of the building industry – must become the goal (this revival will follow and could, with a steer from Stormont, create an industry that not only makes money, but also adds to the social good).

The minister, Mark H Durkan, says he is listening. Let's also hope he hears.

Peter Carr is chairman of the Belfast Metropolitan Residents' Group

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