NIIRTA Welcomes New Town Centre First Planning Policy Delivered By Durkan

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The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has welcomed the publication of the new Strategic Planning Policy Statement, which includes for the first time a new Town Centre First Retail Planning Policy.

DOE Minister Mark H Durkan MLA published the policy statement in a written statement to the Assembly today. The new policy incorporates the old draft PPS 5.

[caption id="attachment_40364" align="alignleft" width="390"]Planning Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has launched a major planning document today at Stormont.[/caption]  

NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts who met with Minister Durkan today, said: “Since our establishment as a business organisation fifteen years ago, NIIRTA has been lobbying for the publication of a Town Centre First planning policy. We are delighted that at long last this policy is published and that it will be the guide for the Eleven Councils.

“Out of town retail development has been a key contributing factor in the decline of our town centres, drawing away trade, resulting in thousands of independent retailers closing and a significant loss of net employment.

“While this new policy is good news, we face a massive task in tackling dereliction in our town and city centres. With the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK of 17.3% we need to establish a Northern Ireland Town Team, bringing together the Executive, Councils, Retail and Hospitality sectors to agree a comprehensive regeneration plan.

“Further action on Rates, Car Parking, Shop Vacancies and Regeneration is urgently needed and NIIRTA will shortly set our new thinking in our alternative Programme for Government.”

Durkan produces ’planning blue print’ to guide future planning decisions

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan today published the Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland (SPPS).

In essence, this is ‘the go to guide’ for everyone involved in the local planning system. The SPPS reduces 20 separate planning policy statements to one. This provides the policy on key issues such as town centres and retail development, building in the countryside, creating and enhancing shared space, tourism, telecommunications and housing.

Significantly, it also sets in black and white, for the first time, as policy, no to unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, often referred to as fracking. This could only change in the future if the Department is satisfied that there is sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts of fracking.

dn_screenMark H Durkan said: “Publishing the SPPS unlocks development potential, supports job creation and will aid economic recovery but not at the expense of our planet, environment and people. It consolidates over 800 pages of existing policy in to a single document and brings clarity and certainty to important planning matters throughout the North.

“Significantly for the first time, no to fracking is actually enshrined in policy unless there is sufficient and robust evidence of its safety on all environmental impacts. I believe this is a sensible and reasonable approach.

“The SPPS introduces a revised strategic direction for Town Centre and Retailing Policy. It advocates a ‘town centres first’ approach to the location of future retailing and town centre uses which will support and sustain vibrant town centres across the North.

“The SPPS will enable councils to be flexible in bringing forward planning policy tailored to local circumstances through their new Local Development Plans.

“The overall objective of the planning system is to further sustainable development and improve well-being for the people of the North. I believe that planning is fundamentally about creating and enhancing shared space, places where communities flourish and enjoy a sense of belonging, both now and into the future. I am confident that the SPPS and the return of planning functions to councils will help achieve that.”

Commenting on the process in producing SPPS the Minister said: “Consultation on the draft SPPS promoted a lively and constructive debate on the appropriate planning policy context for the introduction of the newly reformed two-tier planning system which came into effect on the 1 April. I have listened to what people have had to say, and taken into account the comments received.

“As a result, I believe the final SPPS has been much improved. There were significant issues raised which were beyond the scope of finalising the SPPS, particularly in relation to strategic policy for renewable energy and strategic policy development in the countryside. As such, I now intend to undertake a full review of these matters. This review work will incorporate extensive engagement with key stakeholders.”

Mark H Durkan added: “This key document will help ensure that the planning system delivers for all now and for future generations.”

Welcoming the publication of the SPPS Roisin Willmott, the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Director for Northern Ireland commented: “This is good news for our members and for Northern Ireland. The much anticipated SPPS will be a catalyst for positive change on the ground. It will greatly aid the preparation of Councils’ new local development plans, providing a clear, practical and integrated policy framework for good decisions in the long term public interest.”

The SPPS is a shorter, clearer and more focused statement of regional planning policy that supports the Executive’s commitments and priorities and the aims and objectives of the Regional Development Strategy 2035.

The Minister had launched the draft SPPS on 4 February 2014, for a period of 12 weeks public consultation, ending on 29 April 2014. A synopsis of Consultation Responses is published along with the SPPS.

The SPPS and associated documents are available online from:

http://www.planningni.gov.uk/SPPS]]>