Cllr Christopher Jackson: "Sinn Féin is keen to send the message that our council area is open for business."
Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson has welcomed the local council’s backing for his motion seeking fundamental reform of the planning system.
Monday night's full meeting of Derry City & Strabane District Council unanimously passed Cllr Jackson's motion which read: “Council expresses concern at the recent criticism of the planning system, from both the Audit Office and the Planning Appeals Commission.
“Council acknowledges that improvements are required to address perceived delays within our own planning department.
“Council will therefore immediately convene a task and finish group to examine the two reports and implement any recommendations that will improve our operation locally, we will also provide feedback to the Department for Infrastructure on improvements we feel could be made across statutory partners.”
The move comes after the system was recently criticised by the Audit Office and Cllr. Jackson said it was needed to encourage investment in Derry.
He added: “Our council has ambitious plans to invest right across our district.
“We are determined to see the expansion of our university, more social and affordable homes to meet the huge demand and to maximise the opportunities coming out of the largest single investment package in this district through the City Deal and Inclusive Future Fund.
“Sinn Féin is keen to send the message that our council area is open for business. We want to see a step change in how we engage with potential investors and overcome the challenges that the planning system presents.
“None of that is a criticism of our local planners. We have a fantastic team in place here but it is obvious that fundamental change of the system they operate within is required.
“The recent reports from both the Audit office and the Public Accounts Committee present us with the opportunity to take this work forward and I therefore very much welcome council’s support for my motion on this important issue.”
During the debate Cllr Philip McKinney (Alliance) stressed the need to make the planning process more simpler for people.
He said: “Having followed Cllr Jackson on the Planning Committee, I fully appreciate his commitment to see a system that is looked at, revamped and made simpler for people to put planning applications in.
“It is up to us to keep abreast of things and keep people informed be they the applicants, the agents or the people on the street.
“We have a good planning team who work hard. The Councillors on the Committee work hard to get it right. But we don't always get it right.
“Perhaps if we could improve the system at our own level, we will start to get things better and improve them.”
Ald Maurice Devenny (DUP) also called for a simplification of the guidelines and processes to help make the jobs of Derry's own planners run much more smoothly.
He added: “I know from our own party's experience that some foreign businesses are reluctant to come to Northern Ireland.
“What they do say is what takes us six or seven years to get through here, can be sorted out in three to four months on the UK mainland.
“As they say in business, time is of the essence, and none of them can wait years for a decision that tells them whether or not they can invest in Northern Ireland.
“I believe our own planning officers are the best in Northern Ireland but they have to work within guidelines and sometimes, it is in those guidelines that where the difficulties lie.
“We have to look at those guidelines and processes and slimline them to make them less cumbersome.”
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