| 8.7°C Belfast

Planning policy overhaul unveiled

Key new planning policies to assist businesses and tourism in rural areas have been unveiled.

PPS4 'Planning and Economic Development' and draft PPS 16 'Tourism', which are aimed at helping Northern Ireland's economic recovery, were launched by Environment Minister Edwin Poots in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday.

Minister Poots said that PPS4 would help businesses in the tough economic climate to locate in the best places across Northern Ireland, leading to faster and better planning decisions.

"All this will help Northern Ireland to meet the challenges of a highly competitive global market and to achieve the modern vibrant economy which is the Executive's top priority," he said.

Draft PPS 16 is a response to the challenges of future tourism growth, by providing up-to-date planning policy for tourism development in settlements and in the countryside.

The policy aims to safeguard the natural and built environment, which is valued by tourists, from harmful development.

"Cities and towns differ from villages and small settlements and the needs of heavy industry differ from those of offices," he said.

"That is why PPS4 sets out different planning considerations for different circumstances."

"It is important to strike a balance between the need to protect the countryside from unnecessary development while supporting rural communities.

"PPS4 sets out the circumstances in which economic development will be permitted in the countryside.

"There will be flexibility for the re-use of existing sites and buildings and for existing businesses to expand their premises.

"Draft PPS16 also promotes proposals that cannot readily be located in settlements, but ensures that such development is not inappropriate or excessive."

Planning in Northern Ireland has long been a contentious issue for businesses.

Six years after getting the green light, the John Lewis retail development at Sprucefield is still in the planning system.

The application for the £40m project, centred on Ireland's first John Lewis store, was first submitted back in 2004.

And Ryanair recently pulled out of George Best Belfast City Airport after boss Michael O'Leary blasted the speed at which a planning application for a runway extension at the facility was moving.