17 Aug 2022

County Derry planners considering legal action over department advice

Department for Infrastructure insist no changes have been made to the existing policy

County Derry planners considering legal action over department advice

A County Derry planner has indicated he will seek legal advice if the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) do not withdraw a recent planning advice notice (PAN).

Chris Cassidy, of CMI Planners, Magherafelt, says the PAN is the 'worst bit of guidance' published by the department in some time.

“It is quite correct, the policy has not changed, but the problem lies in the interpretation this advice is giving on the policy,” he told the County Derry Post.

“The guidance brings in a lot of interpretation that is going to stop a lot of people from getting houses.

“It's taking the flexibility that each council has and it's removing that. The councillors know the area and what's needed in the area, but this is now coming from central Belfast.

“This review was done six years ago. They consulted with everyone under the sun, except members of the public and local agents.

“All the councils west of the Bann, asked that the policies be relaxed so a farmer could build away from his farm, without the clustering aspect.

“They were ignored and the guidance brought in has tightened this policy up to an extent that I imagine 70% of approvals going through at the minute will be refused.”

Chris Cassidy

The DfI advice specifically references farm dwellings, with developments required to be set next to two existing farm buildings.

Chris says the restrictions will prevent young people being able to live on the land on which they were reared.

“It's a major problem for anybody that is trying to stay on their family land. It's not going to happen any more,” he said.

“This is going to be a disaster for people in the countryside. It's preventing growth and young people staying on the ground where they were born, and driving them into cities and towns.”

The Magherafelt planner has indicated he will seek a judicial review if the new planning advice is not withdrawn by the Department.

“We're very serious about it. I have a number of Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) in with the Department,” he said.

“If this is still on the table when I get the answers, I will certainly be taking a judicial review on this, because there are so many flaws in this, that it's wide open for judicial review.”

However, DfI has hit back at claims the PAN has made restrictive changes to its planning policy.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

In a letter to Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone, seen by the County Derry Post, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said the purpose of the PAN was to 're-emphasise' and 'clarify' existing policy.

“I want to assist councils as planning authorities and all users of the planning system in the interpretation and implementation of this important policy area,” said the Minister.

“I believe the SPPS does provide opportunities for development in the countryside, striking a balance between supporting and sustaining rural communities and protecting the countryside from inappropriate development.

“This PAN should assist in this overall objective. It reaffirms and clarifies my commitment to sustainable development in the countryside which is particularly important as we seek to address the climate emergency.

“It is important to understand that this PAN provides advice which councils, as planning authorities in their own right, will take into account in plan-making and decision-taking, along with all other material planning considerations.

“Ultimately the interpretation, relevance and weight to be accorded to all material planning considerations, including this guidance, will be a matter for each planning authority to determine in any specific case.”

Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone

Mr McGlone welcomed the clarification from the Minister.

“This planning advice notice provides advice which councils as planning authorities in their own right will take into account when making their decisions as well as other considerations.

“It has been confirmed to me that ultimately the interpretation, relevance and weight of planning considerations including this guidance is a matter for each council in any specific case.

“This confirmation will provide reassurance to many after others have pushed inaccuracies over the past days which has only misrepresented the purpose of this advice note.”

GUEST COLUMN: Council can stand up for people of Mid Ulster region

Liam Ward from Ward Design in Castledawson comments on a new planning document which could help shape the future development of local areas.

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