Minister makes statement on Major Schemes and Development Plans
Planners will now deal with major economic investment proposals speedily and effectively despite delays in bringing forward new area of Development Plans, Environment Minister Sammy Wilson stated today.
In a statement to the Assembly, the Minister confirmed planners would only reject major applications on the grounds of prematurity if it was clear an approval would prejudice or undermine a development plan.
Mr Wilson explained: “Changes in the economy can take place on a timescale that is significantly shorter than that experienced for the production of new development plans.
“The system must, therefore, be improved in order to enable planning as a whole to become more effective in managing the development process.
“That is why I intend to bring forward proposals for a new local development plan system with the key aim of speeding up the whole process through plans that are more streamlined, quicker to prepare, more strategic in nature and importantly more responsive to change.
“This will inevitably take time to achieve. In the interim, I want to ensure, as far as possible, that when significant economic development proposals come forward that are clearly in the public interest, they are not unnecessarily stalled.”
The Minister stated that he felt that planners along side INI and local councils played a positive role in finding solutions for any land shortages for economic developments despite (this is contrary to our experience in Strabane with both Planning Service and INI where significant hold ups of over 4 years have thus far been experienced in an application for a new food store generating both construction and long terms jobs and introducing a new food operator into the market).
He also told MLAs the Article 31 major application process provided a mechanism to progress suitable proposals rather than delaying schemes awaiting preparation of new plans. (Again this is not our experience.)
The Minister clarified the approach which would be taken by the Planning Service in future in dealing with applications submitted prematurely before the completion of area plans.
Mr Wilson acknowledged prematurity was an important consideration where considerable work had been undertaken to produce new draft plans.
However he stressed it was only one of a number of factors to be weighed by the Department.
The Minister recognised that since the introduction of new advice in 2005, the Planning Service’s approach had been considerably refined and cases were diminishing.
However he felt further clarification was required.
Mr Wilson said: “I am today instructing officials that prematurity should only be employed as a reason of refusal in cases where the Department can plainly demonstrate that an approval of planning permission would clearly prejudice or undermine the development plan process or key elements of the plan itself.”
The Minister indicated he was confident both today’s statement and his earlier statement in May on the weight to be attached to the economic aspects of development proposals, would ensure sufficient flexibility in the planning system to deal effectively with significant economic investment opportunities.
Our experience of prematurity is that it has been used as a tool to delay planning applications to allow Planning Service to catch up with backlogs in the process. In one instance our client owned land within the development limit (in the extant plan) applied and was granted permission for housing which lapsed. The emerging plan was published zoning the land for housing and he reapplied for housing on the site. This application was refused on prematurity grounds despite being acceptable in terms of both plans and having a planning history of approvals on the site.
This is one example of prematurity being used to delay the planning process.