Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: Northern Ireland planning applications dating back a decade still not decided

Exclusive by John Mulgrew

Major planning applications dating back more than a decade have still not been decided on, the Belfast Telegraph can be reveal.

A decision has yet to be made by the Department for Infrastructure on several applications, including a significant out-of-town food superstore in Londonderry dating back to February 2006.

And the lack of action has been blasted by one planner, who said the huge delays create "uncertainty" which gives investors "a negative view of the Northern Ireland planning system".

It can be revealed a total of 10 major applications sitting with the department still remain undecided.

Andy Stephens of Matrix Planning said: “I fail to see how it could take a decade to make a decision on any application irrespective of whether it is a Regionally Significant Development (RSD) or not.”

Planning powers were devolved to Northern Ireland’s councils in April 2015, but major and significant applications were retained by the Department of the Environment, now Department for Infrastructure, for decision.

The retail application in Londonderry dates back to 2006 and a decision on whether to give it the go ahead, or refuse, has still not been made. It is for a development on the Buncrana Road, just outside the city.

The application is still active, with developers having met with planners as recently as May 2014.

Consultations have been issued by those behind the scheme and a number of objections have been raised, including from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association.

And another application for a retail development at Castlebawn in Newtownards, Co Down, has only just been refused after being first submitted in 2005.

There are also several other applications which have yet to be decided. That includes a mixed-use development including a hotel, offices and healthcare facility at Crescent Link in Derry, which was submitted to the planning process back in 2009.

And another application from the same year, which proposes demolition of unlisted buildings and restoration of the former Clark’s Mill in Upperlands, is also still “under consideration”.

A spokeswoman for the department said a small number of so-called ‘Article 31’ applications were “transferred to the new Department for Infrastructure in May this year”.

She said that while it is “not appropriate to comment on individual applications” the “subject cases have involved a range of complex policy and procedural issues”.

“There have also been a number of significant amendments and additional information required from applicants over an extended period of time,” she added.

“The department continues to expedite former Article 31 cases, of which only 10 remain (from a total of 60 that were in the system in 2011). The majority of these applications are close to being concluded.”

The spokeswoman said “measures have been put in place in the new planning system” to help ensure “applications of regional significance” are processed quicker.

Mr Stephens said: “Decisions have only recently been made or have still to be made on such historic applications.

“There are also a number of applications from 2010 and 2011, so it is not an isolated situation.”

Belfast Telegraph