McAllister Expresses Concern Over Transfer Of Planning Powers To Councils

John McCallister, who is running as an Independent Unionist in South Down in the forthcoming NI Assembly election, has questioned the Chief Planning Officer’s assessment that the transfer of planning powers to the new super councils has been a success. Mr McCallister has based his position on his experiences in the Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

In a statement he said: “I would be somewhat concerned that Fiona McCandless’ analysis has been arrived at, at a distance from the reality of planning services in some Councils. In my own constituency of South Down, I have lost count of the number of agents, businesses and applicants seeking help because they are frustrated beyond belief with Newry Mourne and Down Council.

John McCallister MLA is concerned at the state of the planning system in Northern Ireland an the backlog of applications.
Independent Unionist South Down MLA John McCallister  is concerned at the state of the planning system in Northern Ireland and the backlog of applications.

“Since the devolution of planning powers the service has been slow, opaque, inconsistent and detrimental to the local economy. On the back of a complaint from me, the Council sought independent analysis from Jim MacKinnon, a planning expert based in Scotland, his report was extremely critical in relation to the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the service. He further noted the need for a major culture change with greater focus on the customer.

“To date the Council and its planning Committee appear to have done nothing to improve outcomes of the process, resulting in the people and businesses of Newry Mourne and Down being left short-changed.

“I do not believe the devolution of planning services to local Councils has been a success in South Down and the Chief Planning Officer and the Minister must not allow complacency to creep in. The public access website, EPIC, is barely fit for purpose and I have argued repeatedly for the Minister of the Environment to get more involved. I have argued for centralised targets that local councils should meet with regards the timeliness and effectiveness of the planning services.

“Councillors and planning officers still have a lot of work to do and they should be more proactive in improving the system for the sake of local people and the economy of South Down.

“I have been raising these issues since the devolution of planning powers – if no improvements are made in certain Councils, the Minister must consider taking the powers back from failing Councils. We should not forget that making a planning application costs money – It is therefore a service and Councils must treat it as such.”

Speaking at a recent Council meeting, a council official explained that a considerable backlog of around 1500 planning applications was being addressed and a number of significant improvements were now in place and he expected the planning application issue to level out in due course over the next few months as progress was being made.