“significant concerns over the location of this proposal..”

In the Belfast Telegraph David Gordon points to more indications that the Planning Service were of a mind to refuse Seymour Sweeney’s planning application for the Causeway development. Of course, only the Environment minster seems to have seen their actual report.. just before she declared that she was “of a mind to approve” that application. From today’s Belfast Telegraph report.

It is clear from internal documents that officials were working towards a refusal position. Their verdict would have been given to the top-level DoE Planning Management Board, who in turn would have made recommendations to Mrs Foster. The Management Board’s report has not been made public and members of the Assembly Environment Committee are expected to press for its release at a meeting today.

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  • Nevin

    “The Minister said: “I have recently received a report from the Planning Service on a planning application by Seaport Investments Ltd for a new Visitor and Study Centre at the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. I have given this report my fullest consideration and have also taken the opportunity to visit the site.

    “Having done so, I have concluded that there is considerable merit in what is proposed and I am of a mind to approve it. ..”

    Perhaps the Minister can demonstrate the merit – and release the sources which back up her conclusion.

    Has she any plans to meet with those who lodged objections? Has the Environment Committee had sight of the objections?

    Objectivity

    In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits,holders of public office should make choices on merit.

    Presumably the Minister and her officials have carried out a proper assessment of the merits of the contractor …

  • Nevin

    Should the minister responsible for sewerage have been consulted?

  • ulsterfan

    Should the Ministers involved make a full statement to the Assembly?
    This will clear up any ambiguity which may exist.
    Does the Assembly committee have the right to carry out their own enquiry by calling witnesses and relevant documents?

  • David Ford

    On Tuesday, members of the Environment Committee were given the opportunity to read the Planning Service public file on the Seaport (Sweeney) application. Last week, I had been told at the Committee meeting (by the Head of Planning Service) that the file would show how the Minister had addressed all the concerns of UNESCO in her ‘minded to approve’ decision.

    I reached the same conclusions as David Gordon: that the file indicated five grounds for refusal (and implied seven, since these five were numbered 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 on different documents). UNESCO concerns were not mentioned. The only reasonable inference was that the team dealing with this application, acting on the advice of, principally, the EHS recommended refusal.

    Logically, therefore, I must presume that the non-public file, including records of internal Planning Service meetings at both Article 31 team and Management Board level, will contain the persuasive arguments. I told David Gordon, and he wrote yesterday, that I would ask the Committee to call for all the papers at today’s meeting.

    At the suggestion of Patsy McGlone (Chair), backed by me, the Committee agreed without dissent to ask for these papers.

    To clarify: my approach in the Committee is that I am not concerned who the applicant is, or whether the company and its Principal have links to certain politicians. Having read the UNESCO report and the public file, I think that the Minister ‘is minded’ to make a wrong decision which will damage a World Heritage Site.

  • Nevin

    David, perhaps you can give these latter day Goliaths a run for their money 🙂

    “When the Department decides to apply the Article 31 procedure to a planning application, it has the option of:

    serving on the applicant, a Notice of Opinion either to approve or refuse planning permission;

    or causing the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) to hold a public local inquiry, for the purpose of considering representations made in respect of the application, and to report on the outcome of the inquiry. The Department shall, in determining the application to which the Article 31 procedures have been applied, take the report of the PAC into account. The decision of the Department is final. ..

    In practice, most Article 31 applications in the past have been dealt with by Notice of Opinion, indicating that the Department proposes to either grant or refuse planning permission. This is likely to remain the case in future.”

    As PACNI has rejected earlier proposals to develop the greenfield site is it sensible of the minister to apparently follow the ‘Notice of Opinion’ route?

    Is the minister duty bound to examine the merits of the contractor as well as the contractor’s plans before reaching a final decision? I was alarmed by her earlier claim that she knew nothing about the developer.

  • Nevin

    Additional question:

    Is the minister also minded to remove the current structures and to restrict all trading to the privately owned development?

  • Nevin

    Apologies, Ulsterfan, my reply last night disappeared into the ether!!

    It’s nice to get a reply from the horse’s mouth. Perhaps other committee members will join the Slugger debate, especially those disposed to defend the ministerial line.

    Is the developer tail wagging the department dog? ‘One man’s litigation triumph‘ could be the epitaph for the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site …

  • ulsterfan

    Nevin

    This is getting too complicated for me.
    Where does power reside?
    If it is in the Assembly and the majority of members want the development at the Causeway to remain in public hands why should they be denied?
    Are ministers not accountable to the Assembly?
    This really is a huge decision and if we get it wrong the financial loss to the community is great.
    Surely there must be a public inquiry

  • Nevin

    Ulsterfan, I suppose it’s possible that SF and the DUP could do a simple horse-trade on this project and the other Assembly members could go whistle. Article 31 permits the minister to side-step a public enquiry.

    As I’ve said previously, the DUP ministers have turned into a cul-de-sac; they may be too ‘thrawn’ to turn back of their own volition.

    A message to the ministers, “The objectors haven’t gone away, you know”.