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'Unacceptable delays' in Northern Ireland planning system slammed

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Ards DUP councillor Alistair Cathcart

Ards DUP councillor Alistair Cathcart

Ards DUP councillor Alistair Cathcart

A Stormont department has been accused of causing "unacceptable delays" to planning applications.

There was heavy criticism of the system at a meeting of Ards and North Down Borough Council's planning committee.

DUP councillor Alistair Cathcart forwarded a motion urging the council to demand reform to the planning system.

The motion, passed unanimously, states the council "recognises that an efficient and effective planning system can assist our recovery from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic by encouraging investment and growing the local economy".

It adds: "The council therefore expresses concern at the continued delay in the responses of statutory agencies to planning applications, particularly the Historic Environment Division (HED) and DFI Roads - which often prevent the council from making timely determinations."

The council resolved to write to the infrastructure minister and the statutory agencies urging delays are addressed urgently and reform implemented.

Mr Cathcart told the committee: "If it's going to take 18 to 24 months to get something through planning then investors are simply going to look elsewhere or indeed implement without planning and ask for forgiveness later."

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He said Northern Ireland should look to England, where a white paper has been launched proposing substantial changes to the planning system, and where policy change has recently been implemented around change of use and permitted development.

The councillor said the devolution of planning in 2011 to councils left local authorities "without sufficient resources".

He said the £50million Bangor town centre regeneration planning application was delayed by HED - which he said "wanted to see a church spire from every direction under the sun."

He quoted a council officer who said the department made "unacceptable delays late in the process," that they were "under-resourced" and "required more information than was necessary."

He referred to a 2019 review into planning efficiency at Department for Infrastructure adding: "The department knows there is a problem, have recommendations on how to address them, but we still face the same issues a year and a half after the report came out."


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