Sustainable Development in the Countryside?

After two months, Northern Ireland’s politicians had the opportunity to debate Jeff Rooker’s draft proposals for tightening regulation on rural developement. A DUP amendment to Patsy McGlone’s motion critical of Rooker’s draft was carried 35 to 17. Bob McCartney noted that there had been a surge in applications “from 3,000 to 8,500 — on the basis of farmers’ sons and daughters suddenly deciding that they require planning permission” Sinn Fein boycotted the debate.It’s worth reading the Hansard at length, but one contribution that leapt out is from Derry DUP MLA Willie Hay:

Today’s debate has been a lively one. Rural planning in Northern Ireland raises many emotions amongst public representatives. The difficulties, however, have been compounded over the years by the fact that many of us, who also served as rural councillors, have only been bystanders to some of the decisions made by planners. As we know, local government in Northern Ireland has only been allowed a consultative role with planners.

As public representatives, we know that, for a number of years, planners have acted like dictators in relation to many applications. In my constituency of Foyle, there was an unwritten rule that when a planning application was first submitted to the council, a member could persuade the planners to meet in order to resolve issues for the applicant. Local planners now refuse to allow that; they tell us the office meetings and site meetings that they will attend. That is totally wrong.


  • páid

    problem is it’s a speech about having no power being made to a body with no power.

    Bit like contributing to Slugger really!

  • Country Boy

    Might I direct those interesting in taking part in the consultation and who are supportive of attempts to curb ‘bungalow blight’ to:

  • Crataegus

    If I could suggest that everyone wants a better environment in Northern Ireland and that isn’t just the rural areas but the urban also. We seem fixated about green fields and cows but forget that the land is a resource and that people earn their living from it. Many of our rural towns depend on it for the basis of their economy. The fields that we see are creations of man and are far from natural.

    Saying that there should be no more development in the rural area is to sensible as saying there should be no more development in the urban area. We need a proper planning policy and not planning by ministerial whim. We need extra houses in rural areas the question is how we provide them and how do we service them? How and where do we form new villages and hamlets, What villages and towns do we enlarge, who ensures basic services, who builds the shops and offices, what school what hospital etc. That’s Planning or development plan.

    With regards development control, at present I have dealings with a number of Architects and I pity anyone who has to deal with the planning office. I have seen complete applications returned, drawings and all because the ACE map doesn’t have a north point. Even I know the north on an ACE Map is the top. Then they make assumptions about applications, is this use being replaced and when you go through the application with the Architect it is obvious that these people are not dealing with the application as sent but adding in their perceptions or possibilities which is not their job or they are asking for information they already have if they would care to read what they have got. The problem is they send everything back as they deem the application incomplete. It is an utter disgrace and someone needs to deal with this and other short comings of this department, it is worse than the Home Office it is completely out of control, serves little useful function, fails to coordinate development, is a drag on our economy, doesn’t care a hoot about democratically elected representatives and seems to be accountable to no one. There are good people in the Department but the ethos and direction need to change.

    It is a really serious problem!

  • Belfast Gonzo

    It was lucky for SF that they boycotted this debate. Their position on the issue since the GAA started making statements on it has changed more often than the weather today.

    Officially, SF are FOR the new planning policy and the GAA are AGAINST it.

    Let’s see how long that situation lasts.

  • Crataegus


    The SF position will be interesting to watch.

    You describe it as the new planning policy. I am less than sure that it is indeed policy as it has not gone through the proper process and I would imagine is open to legal challenge. This is only the tip of the iceberg there are all the issues surrounding the adoption of the Belfast Metropolitan Plan whilst it was still a document in consultation. It is a complete mess.

    The issue is not if we agree or disagree with the decision or decisions but are they in fact legal?

    Some people have lost serious amounts of money because of this sort of carry on, others who anticipated have gained. The inefficiency of the Department is staggering and its contempt for elected representatives foolish. In my view Senior Civil Servants and Ministers need to be made accountable.

  • The Dog

    Belfast Gonzo

    I think you will find that the official Sinn Féin position is opposed to this draft rural planning PPS 14.

    You might also find that they have had a number of public meetings on it – I think there is one in South Down tonight. There is a statement saying that they raised this with Peter Hain on Monday and met planning officials from DoE and DRD on Tuesday (instead of posing around for the cameras)

    I think that you might also find that Sinn Féin have met the Ulster Council of the GAA.

    But hey what are facts.

    The Dog

  • Cahal

    Maybe tommorrow they will debate the war in Iraq. Or the state of government in Burma.

    The outcome of a 6th form balloon debate has as much sway over the British government as this farce.

    God this is embarrassing.

  • The Dog


    Total agreement. What a waste of space – if it is not going to the job intended, voted for and paid for then sack the lot. Go spend the money on hospitals or something useful.

    It is like a bit of occupational therapy for a bunch of losers who are too afraid to stand up and yake responsibility. The economy debate was even worse the week before. If I was a businessman I would be pleading with Hain to stay or even better for Bertie to take charge.

    Everyone knows this joke is what the DUP want. Can’t understand why the SDLP and UUP are going along with Wendy House debates (a phase the SDLP came up with by themselves).

    The Dog

  • Carson’s Cat

    The Dog/Cahal

    You seem to follow this line about SF not taking part in debates which are only ‘talking shops’ and have no power.

    Why then do the Shinners happily take part in debates in Local Councils on issues over which that Council has absolutely no power or jurisdiction? Those are talking shop debates and yet SF happily use them and are eagerly pressing for them – see the SF debate in places like Strabane calling for the Irish Government to introduce a Green Paper on Irish Unity. Strabane DC has absolutely no authority in that area and the Irish Government are under no requirement to listen to the views of Strabane District Council yet SF actually brought the motion before them? Wih this Assembly the SoS has actually said that if there can be cross-community consensus, and this seems to be one where that might be possible then he will listen to those views.

    Therefore by SF’s absence from the debate they have actually reduced the possibility of making changes to a policy which they claim to oppose.

    There can be no excuse for SF abandoning their constituents. Do they not care about bread & butter issues?

  • Crataegus

    All the political parties should be united in asking, no demanding, reform of the Planning Service. All political parties are being treated with contempt by the Planning Service. This service is not functioning efficiently, it is not doing the job properly, it is delaying development, often unnecessarily, and it is costing applicants serious amounts in planning fees and worse still delays.

    To take an example if you borrow say £500,000 to buy an office and want to alter and apply for planning permission it is likely to take about 6 months for a decision even if the proposal is uncontroversial, often it is considerably longer. That is 6 months that you can’t move in and are paying for rent where you are and interest on the loan. In addition you have Planning Fees to pay to fund the crap service and your own professional fees. The cost could be an additional £40,000 £50,000 that is over and above normal costs.

    It’s not just property developers and the business community this impinges upon. It applies to everyone who wants to build a house or alter their house or have bought a house to improve before moving in. The cost and drag on the economy caused by this Department is substantial, and often for absolutely no reason. It and associated departments need to be brought under proper control.

  • páid

    I have a funny feeling SF’s planning policy will bear a close resemblance to FF’s planning policy.

    FOR PP for local country people

    AGAINST despoilation of the countryside

    FOR good design and proper septic tanks

    AGAINST unsustainable commuting

    FOR decent homes in traditional Irish communities

    AGAINST bungalow blight.

    And the cracks and contradictions inherent in ‘all of this’??

    This is where the skillful politicians live.

  • Curious

    What policy would any of the contributors wish to see?

  • crataegus


    That’s not a straightforward question, because it has to be related to many other areas of policy and service provision. Planning requires an overall development framework to work within, but part of the problem is there is no clear overall policy direction. How do we revitalise the rural economy or west of the Bann? What role does tourism play? What is our transport or Energy policy? So part of the problem is political both in terms of policy and in terms of lack of supervision and accountability.

    What I would like to see is.
    1Clear sustainability criteria as the main part of planning considerations and reduce the importance of the purely the subjective, such as “detrimental to the amenity,” “not in keeping with the character.” Dump most of the design guides as they are not worth the paper they are written on and merely limit innovation. We need much greater emphasis on enabling energy production on site, and maximising our use of land and rivers as a resource. Complex issue but the planning service requires clear objectives, criteria and targets or what is the point in it being there?
    2We should identify prime agricultural land and ban all development on it. Development land should be low quality. We should not extend settlement around Bangor, Comber or Newtownards for example.
    3Protect areas of special control and accept that different rural areas are of lesser value. Planning policy and control should be noticeably more stringent in the Glens of Antrim than say Coalisland.
    4Establish several National Parks.
    5Encourage more forestry.
    6Farmers need houses to live in and retire to, but there is a problem. If you build a retirement bungalow what do you do with the dwelling when the farmer dies? Same problem with accommodation for workers or sons or daughters. I think the answer is to group such dwelling in close proximity to the main farm building and insist that they should be designed to look as though part of an overall complex. If someone dies yes the dwelling can be sold, but there is a down side in terms of privacy. I think that this would remove much of the abuse in the system.
    7Identify public transport routes and encourage the building of new hamlets and villages close to those routes. Require fairly high densities and an overall design for say the villages so that there are shops offices etc. Give approval for flexible usage so that workshops etc can be build and the village can quickly evolve as people change houses to offices etc. Enable these villages to change to meet local opportunities.
    8Expand existing villages but require that some of the developments be done by a mixture of developers. This is to ensure diversity and that small rural builders are not squeezed out by legislation rather than competition. These small builders are the backbone of NI building industry and are the source of most of the better tradesmen. Right now we have thrown them to the wolves.
    9Encourage farm diversity by making it easier to change the use of existing buildings.
    10Increase the range of permitted developments and remove many of the restrictions on minor developments from Planning to Building control. There could be a section in the Building Regulations for overlooking etc. Take the Planners right out of the trivia.
    11Make the Planning Service liable for delays in processing applications. There needs to be a system for complaining about poor service or requests for information that are not relevant or already submitted.
    12To plan you need finance to fund development. Have the Roads, the Water Service, Historic Monuments budget controlled by Planning and make these departments clearly subservient. Make it a clear requirement that coordination is the Planning Services job.
    13Enable the Planning Service to act as a lead developer and accrue profit from such activity.
    14Review how the service is paid for. An applicant can be out serious money in Planning fees and be refused. Perhaps move planning fees from applications and instead have the fee on the approvals or finance the service by 15 below.
    15I think it wrong that opportunists like myself can buy a site or piece of land and through planning approval make a killing. Rezoned land should be purchased by the Planning Service and sold through them. The profits could go to fund development or the necessary services. The present system means the tax payer subsidies my profit. Alternatively you could have a levy on the approval, say £10,000 a dwelling, a first charge on the property.

    Fifteen is enough for tonight.

  • crataegus

    If I could just illustrate a problem. I was talking to the owner of an existing business that prepares farm produce for sale for a leading retailer. The business wants to expand, but cannot get approval despite political support. The area has relatively few local jobs, but the planners believe that a location such as Mullusk more appropriate, or indeed any of the industrial estates. The business is functioning where it is and employs local labour so what is the owner supposed to do? To move means incurring substantial building costs and possibly making redundant many of the workers. To stay means a business of limited size. I can’t say much about this, but this is not a polluting type of business and from what I am told can’t see any real problem with expansion. Not far away I note there is a massive cow shed which make nonsense about any visual concerns. The attitude that this illustrates is one of the reasons why the rural economy is in trouble.