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Developers 'put off' by Northern Ireland's planning laws

Northern Ireland's planning laws are delaying development and putting off investors, according to an expert.

Matthew Sheppard of planning consultancy Turley Associates told delegates at Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors event in Belfast that the level of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) carried out here was the highest in the UK.

An environmental impact assessment is an examination of the possible impact of a proposed project on surroundings, taking natural, social and economic aspects into account.

Mr Sheppard, head of EIAs at the planning firm, said research from the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) found the level of EIAs here relative to the population was four times higher than in England and twice as high as in Scotland and Wales.

He claimed the technical assessment documents had delayed several major development projects.

Mr Sheppard said: "The situation in Northern Ireland is very different to England. More EIA work is undertaken and slightly different legislation means that there are more opportunities for objectors to a development to frustrate the planning process and slow down necessary investment and economic growth.

"The risks of legal challenge will remain high even when the legislation changes, so it is important to make sure that these documents are both thorough and robust at the start of the process.

"EIAs are extremely important, but they can be used to delay development projects."

Edwin Poots (left) caused controversy in 2010 when, while in the role of Environment Minister, he publicly criticised legal proceedings based on an EIA being taken over the proposed John Lewis development at Sprucefield.

Businesses opposed to the 500,000 sq ft retail application were granted leave to seek a judicial review over claims that a proper assessment was not carried out on the impact the development would have on wildlife at the site.