Applicants ‘at wit’s end’ over inconsistencies in Planning policy

November 21, 2016

SDLP Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh Justin McNulty has called on senior planning officials to investigate the inconsistency in approach by local planning authorities across the north, claiming the current policy is too restrictive.

Commenting as planning officials appeared before Stormont’s Infrastructure Committee during last week, Mr McNulty said: “As Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh, I work across two different councils and therefore two different planning authorities. What has become very apparent is the inconsistency in approach in dealing with planning applications in the two areas.  What development is acceptable in one council area is not even considered in the other and what evidence is acceptable in one area is ruled out in the other. The inconsistency is frustrating for applicants, architects and public representatives alike.  Planning policy is the same but the approach or interpretation is different for each area.”

He says delays in processing planning applications, particularly in the Newry, Mourne and Down area, are unacceptable and a “barrier to business”.

“We need to get a grip of this very quickly, is more than an administration issue, it’s an economic issue.  Delays in the planning process are a barrier to business.  And many in the building industry are crying out for work. Meanwhile there is a backlog of planning proposals which could unlock hundreds of jobs in the construction industry locally.”

Mr McNulty also flagged up an important issue affecting farm dwellings, and in particular the circumstances where landowners previously let out their land to another farmer in conacre, but now wish to farm the land themselves.

“They don’t have a Business ID and are finding it extremely difficult to prove that they are farming, despite the policy and updated ministerial guidance stating that if a landowner can demonstrate that the land has been maintained in good agricultural condition.  Again the inconsistency is prevalent as some evidence is acceptable in one council area but not in another.”

Stating that applicants “are at their wits end”, Mr McNulty welcomed the Infrastructure Minister’s plan to launch a full review of the policy.