Councils 'must target landlords'
Councils in Northern Ireland must get tough on landlords whose properties fall into dangerous disrepair, the Environment Minister says.
During question time at the Assembly, Alex Attwood called for local authorities to flex their muscles when tackling blight caused by dereliction.
"It is not my view that all councils are measuring up," the minister said. "Now, there may be issues for that - resources; understanding of the law; and a lack of confidence in deployment in legal reference that they have. Whatever the reasons, if they have mechanisms in order to go after those owners who are on the wrong side of maintaining a property in a fit and proper way, I think they should."
The minister praised Belfast City Council which has established a dedicated team to seek out and deal with crumbling properties posing a risk to public health. He also acknowledged Coleraine Borough Council which helped with a £400,000 spruce-up of Portrush and Portstewart ahead of this summer's Irish Open golf tournament.
Mr Attwood added: "In my view Belfast City Council are the trail blazers in terms of using the powers that they have to deal with the issues of safety, nuisance and dereliction, decay and so on. By taking enforcement action against landlords who have property in those states then I think councils can show good authority and I would look to other councils to use the power they have under the Policing and Control Order 1978."
SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt said there were areas in south Belfast where unfinished buildings were in desperate need of attention.
During the debate the minister also revealed that plans to reduce fees for planning approval renewals were being considered in a bid to encourage development during and after the recession.
Mr Attwood said: "We are about to go and consult within the next couple of days around introducing reduced fees for planning applications to be extended beyond the original lifetime of the approval - namely five years.
"At the moment there will be a lot of planning approvals that will go nowhere because of the recession, lack of money, NAMA (National Asset Management Agency), bankruptcy and so on.
"There are opportunities to aid development going forward by reducing fees for renewal of planning approvals in a way that would keep those approvals live, especially if they are of great value in a way that would plan for a time after recession."