A local councillor has urged the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to open 'proper and inclusive dialogue' with rural people after the withdrawal of a controversial planning advice note (PAN).
On Friday evening, DfI announced that advice issued around the development of farm and in-fill dwellings had been withdrawn after what they described as a 'significant response'.
“The PAN did not add to or change existing planning policy,” said a spokesperson.
“The Department had not expected such a significant response to what is essentially an advice note to support the efficient and effective workings of the two-tier planning system.
“Regrettably, rather than bringing certainty and clarity, as was its intention, the PAN seems to have created confusion and uncertainty.
DfI Minister Nichola Mallon
“The Department has listened carefully to and reflected on all the concerns and has decided to withdraw the PAN today to swiftly restore clarity to this situation.
“The Department will now take stock of the concerns raised and undertake further engagement and analysis on this important policy area, to include consideration of current and emerging issues, such as the climate emergency and a green recovery from this pandemic.”
Issues around the planning notice had been first raised in August by Mid Ulster councillor Sean McPeake, with a number of planners also contacting the County Derry Post to raise their concerns.
Mid Ulster District Council also wrote an official letter to DfI calling for the advice to be withdrawn, as neighbouring councils also voiced their frustration with the notice.
Cllr Sean McPeake
Cllr McPeake welcomed the withdrawal of the Department advice, branding it a 'harmful diktat' that should have not been introduced without consultation and agreement.
“This PAN was clearly imposing additional significant planning restrictions across a number of planning policy areas,” said the Sinn Féin representative.
“Despite packaging the note as ‘Guidance’ Councils were left with no option but to take into account the new restrictions within the PAN when determining on rural planning applications.
“These were policy changes as they were directing Councils to refuse planning applications which did not meet their new restrictive directives within ‘dwellings on farms’, infill development and clustering.
“Since August 2 2021 Planning departments within Councils were having to change initial opinions to applications already within the planning system on many applications from approvals to refusals.
“Since the devolution of planning powers to Councils in 2015, they have been successfully working within the parameters of the policies devolved to them from Stormont.
“The outworking of the recent PAN was to make an already restricted policy even more restricted with additional caveats requiring to be overcome before planning approval would be granted.
“Ministers in government and their governmental departments need to listen carefully to the needs of rural people and their communities and tailor rural sustainability policies to suit.”
Emma Sheerin MLA
A Sinn Féin motion and debate was due to be tabled in Stormont today, and Mid Ulster MLA Emma Sheerin said she was delighted it was no longer necessary.
“We had tabled a motion that was due to be moving today,” she said.
“I had submitted several questions to the Minister about this and am delighted that she has responded to the pressure and rescinded this advice which would have ruled out many people's homes.”
Fellow Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone also welcomed the withdrawal of the advice on Friday.
“While the intention of the advice note was to help to bring certainty and clarity for councils, unfortunately the PAN seems to have created confusion and uncertainty,” said the SDLP representative.
“I welcome that the Minister has listened to the concerns raised, especially in the rural communities and by our rural representatives, and has instructed the Department to withdraw the PAN.
“It is right that the Minister and the Department have committed to further engagement including consideration of issues related to the climate crisis and a green recovery from this pandemic as we seek to support our rural communities across the North.”
Chris Cassidy, of CMI Planners & Architecture Ltd, said the decision marks a victory for country dwellers.
“I'm obviously delighted that this PAN has been withdrawn. The issuing of this document was clearly a change of Planning Policy and quite rightly required consultation with interested bodies,” he said.
“Its withdrawal will once again let Council members have the final say on applications based on policy and local knowledge.
“The effort put in by elected representatives and agents is a victory for every person wanting to remain in the country side and were very proud to have played a small part in its removal.”
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