Minister to scrap controversial new planning policy
Environmental campaigners are celebrating news that a controversial new planning policy will not be introduced.
However, supporters of developments like the John Lewis store at Sprucefield will be again disappointed.
There were more than 130 responses to a consultation earlier this year on Draft Planning Policy Statement 24 (PPS 24) which environmentalists argued would have spelt "the death-knell" for balanced planning decisions.
The majority of responses opposed PPS 24.
Opponents of the policy argued it would prejudice against small and medium-sized businesses in favour of large commercial developments.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced he will not be implementing the policy.
"I am determined that planning applications of all sizes with economic benefit, and crucially major benefit, are given every opportunity and a fair wind," the minister said.
The minister agreed with critics of the policy that economic considerations are already a factor in planning decisions and are balanced with other considerations, including social and environmental factors.
Two environmental groups, Friends of the Earth (FoE) and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society wrote to the minister saying they had a strong case to challenge the lawfulness of the policy.
FoE Northern Ireland director, James Orr, described it as a "really significant" decision.
"If this policy had been implemented it would have been the death-knell of planning," he said.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said: "We were concerned that developers and multiples would have used the policy as an excuse to push for more out-of-town supermarkets which have a detrimental affect on town centres," he said.
However, the Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland expressed disappointment with the decision saying the minister had "shied away from reinforcing the economic imperative in planning policy".
PPS 24 was proposed in 2010, in connection with the Aurora Tower in Belfast. Sammy Wilson told planners they were missing an opportunity turning it down. It was the only policy of its kind in Britain and Ireland. Environmental groups and smaller retailers opposed it, arguing it would promote large developments without considering environmental or business interests.