Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Planning authorities, the ball's in your court

One of the most fractious issues in Northern Ireland is the planning system, and a current example is that of a tennis club in Belfast. Hundreds of young players have been inconvenienced by the delay in granting planning permission for the erection of an inflatable dome during the winter months.

It was first erected two years ago, and a renewal application lodged last September seemed straightforward. However, there was an 11-week delay before planning officers visited the site, and more delays are expected following objections to the scheme from local residents.

The issue will go before the Belfast City Council's Planning Committee next week, while the Planning Service has said the application remains under consideration. The case will be considered on its merits, no doubt, but it seems strange that the planning authorities have taken so long to respond to what appears to have been a routine application, with adverse repercussions for a tennis club struggling to retain members.

All of this is in sharp contrast to the introduction in December of a new Planning Bill which the Environment Minister Edwin Poots claimed would "transform" Northern Ireland's planning system. The minister claimed that this would help pave the way for the transfer of planning functions to local government within a timescale and in circumstances to be determined by the Executive.

Mr Poots claimed further that this will make the planning system more effective and that it would also speed up the decision- making process. However, not all the planning powers will move to the local councils.

The policy framework will still be a matter for ministers, and the Department of the Environment will still advise on the practical aspects of planning. It will also have oversight and management responsibilities, and determine complex planning applications.

Despite the minister's enthusiasm for the new Bill, people will judge it by results, and a more speedy resolution of planning applications is the least they can expect from a system that is long due an overhaul.

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