“agreed that a Notice of Opinion to refuse should be issued..”

The Causeway row looks set to continue. Prompted by an apparent leak from the Assembly’s Environment Committee by Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay, the BBC report that, as had been hinted at, the Planning Service Management Board had told the minister that they “agreed that a Notice of Opinion to refuse” the application by Seymour Sweeney should be issued in June 2007.. 2 months before the Environment minister announced that she was minded to “of a mind to approve the application”. The question remains – Why was the minister “of a mind to approve” that application at that time? Especially when she eventually agreed to issue a notice of opinion to refuse? And if there was influence.. to whose benefit was it brought?According the Sinn Féin press statement

Mr McKay said:

“One of the papers which the Minister refused to disclose to the Environment Committee was a memo from Planning Manager Tom Clarke to her office on 1st June 2007.

“This memo clearly states that the Planning Service Management Board had finalised its consideration of the Seaport application and “agreed that a Notice of Opinion to refuse should be issued”.

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  • Mark McGregor

    Pete,

    Was it a leak? Are they not allowed to discuss documents that have been provided?

  • Pete Baker

    Mark

    I’d suggest the protocol would be that material provided to the Committee should be considered by the Committee before members of the Committee make solo runs with it.

    It’s not a major issue.. but it is one that relates to how MLAs, and parties, regard the legislative Assembly.

  • joeCanuck

    Perhaps they’re still on the learning curve.
    How much longer should they be given before that can’t be an excuse?

  • Danny O’Connor

    the fact that it was contained in a document which had been witheld initially seems very strange.This document should have been disclosed immediately-otherwise it appears thst somebody has something to hide.I am less concerned about protocol than the poor judgement in dealing with this whole issue,fair play to Daithi Mackay for exposing it.

  • Emmett O’Doherty

    People have forgotten about Foster’s statement in September too quickly. There is absolutely no way she can justify it, she ignored the planning service advice, she then said she was minded to approve the application BUT there was a number of outstanding matters she wanted to look at. Any straight minister would know that you shouldn’t be minded to approve anything whilst something as huge as World Heritage Status remains outstanding!

    She agreed with dodds in a meeting in June last year that private development at the Causeway was preferable and the real reason for the minded statement was to give dodds an excuse to shelve the public sector application. Fair play to McKay for keeping this alive as the DUP would have been hoping that Foster’s statement last week would have been enough to get her off the hook.

  • Anna

    This information should all be available under Freedom of Information now that the Minister has made a final decision on the application so Mckay has every right to bring it to the public’s attention as the public can access it now if they so wish!
    Im not aware of the Assembly having any protocols in this regard?

  • Danny O’Connor

    Not yet Anna-Certain individuals are making noises that FOI is too costly etc…Shame on them

  • Buile Suibhne

    Did the minister not make it clear after her ‘minded’ announcement that when the (planning?) advice she was given became public her position would be better understood?
    I am very confused!

  • Danny, an FoI request can reveal more than you might expect. I’ve had sight of a released document where personal details such as home addresses and phone numbers had not been ‘blacked out’. I drew this to the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office and was assured that the matter would be resolved.

  • fair_deal

    Sorry Peter but the two questions have already been answered.

    Why was the minister “of a mind to approve” that application at that time?

    Because after almost seven years it was the only formal proposal to develop a proper visitor’s centre at the Causeway. Up until then, even with departmental and financial assistance, the only alternative, NT and Moyle, couldn’t get their act together (and we are still waiting for their formal proposal to emerge)

    “Especially when she eventually agreed to issue a notice of opinion to refuse?”

    When she made her original ‘of a mind’ comments she said there were issues in the application she knew needed to be addressed. In her formal refusal she mentioned how over-coming the concerns couldn’t be achieved.

    She wanted something to happen at a major tourist attrraction after years of messing about but the only formal proposal was a problematic one. She tried to get the problems sorted out. It didn’t work, thus formal refusal.

    I would also make the general point what was the point of devolution if ministers must do nothing except what civil servants tell them to do?

  • Pete, according to the Grapevine, the developer seemed convinced he’d been awarded the project in August, perhaps earlier.

    A final decision by the DoE has yet to be taken, according to this letter from the Planning Service.

    Back on September 10, the Minister indicated that there was only one application on the table. Perhaps she ought to have said that it was just an outline one: E/2002/085/O. What pressure, if any, had her department put on DETI to advance its own application? Has the Committee had sight of correspondence between the two departments on this issue?

    As the DCMS is responsible for the protection of World Heritage Sites in the UK and as, presumably, the DoE would also have been familiar with the UNESCO report what correspondence was there between the two ministries in advance of September 10?

  • “the only alternative, NT and Moyle, couldn’t get their act together”

    Except, fd, that the alternative in place was, er, a DETI agency, not the NT and Moyle District Council. The NT had put forward their own plan years ago in competition with Sweeney/Seaport but its likely that it was blocked/opposed by the Paisleys and the DUP councillors. Perhaps your DUP contacts can expand on the shenanigans in Moyle District Council on this matter.

    Why would the Minister be minded to award such an important contract to a developer who can leave this hole in the ground for so many years? Why did Paisley snr back an application for two replacement dwellings when there was only one original dwelling, #111 Whitepark Road (as shown on the actual planning application)? Who ‘invented’ #111A?

    It’s not as if the Minister had been unfamiliar with controversy surrounding Sweeney/Seaport. She and her officials had met a delegation from Coleraine Borough Council district on July 9, 2007, and I understand she’d ‘parked’ a Sweeney/Seaport development on the Mountsandel Road, Coleraine as a consequence of the delegation’s pleas. An FoI request would yield additional details.

  • fair_deal

    Nevin

    DETI stepped in because Moyle couldn’t redevelop it themsleves but couldn’t come to a deal with either Sweeney or the Trust. The DETI proposals hadn’t gone anywhere as the NT and Moyle are the landowners and continued to squabble (until frightened into speedy action before Christmas). Thus no planning application had been made around the DETI supported proposals.

    “Why would the Minister be minded to award such an important contract to a developer who can leave this hole in the ground for so many years?”

    There was no contract being awarded. It was a planning application.

    As for the other two I don’t know.

    We discussed the Sweeney Coleraine thing before. I think it undermines the claim of conspiracy you think it reinforces it.

  • fair_deal

    On the other two, I sincerely doubt if she had or has an encyclopaedic knowlegde of every planning application (either in her own constituency or in the other 17).

  • “The DETI proposals hadn’t gone anywhere as the NT and Moyle are the landowners and continued to squabble (until frightened into speedy action before Christmas).”

    fd, can you provide some evidence of this squabbling post the Memorandum of Understanding drawn up by DETI, NT and MDC back in 2005? AFAIK relationships have been fairly harmonious despite DETI’s ‘foot-dragging’ post the arrival of the Chuckle Brothers consortium!!

    It seems logical to assume that the Minister would be minded to award a contract to the developer to whom she was minded to give approval to on an outline planning permission – or as some might say, a doodle on a cigarette packet.

    Perhaps you’d rather describe the close association between the DUP leadership and the developer as one of collusion/cronyism rather than conspiracy?

    “I am convinced that the proposal as it stands would have an adverse impact on the World Heritage Site as I believe that it could adversely affect the character of the area. There are serious doubts that the proposed development would adequately integrate into the landscape and it would add to the spread of development at this sensitive location.” .. Foster

    So she could have given this answer weeks before her September 2007 announcement as she’d dealt with the Mountsandel controversy on July 9, visited the site on July 18 and had access to the relevant documents.

    The hole in the ground near Ballintoy is very relevant as you could just as easily end up with one at the Causeway.

  • Crataegus

    My own opinion is that Foster’s statement was a serious political mistake and gives rise to questions for the reasons for her making it.

    However this Ministry is a bed of nails.

    fair-deal

    I would also make the general point what was the point of devolution if ministers must do nothing except what civil servants tell them to do?

    That is a good point particularity in relation to this department. There are a lot of very able people in this department and some have agendas all of their own. It is a department that, let us say needs clearer focus. It would take an exceptionally able person, with intimate knowledge of the subject, to sort out the many issues that need to be addressed in that department. It is a seriously difficult job but one that is crucial to both our future economy and environment.

    On a wider front there are likely to be more controversial applications like this surfacing. Whoever the Minister may be they should insure they follow protocol, disclose fully the advice given and reasons for disagreeing or agreeing. Whoever the Minister is would do well to have a knowledgeable adviser who is well briefed and has a good overview on such issues. Trust me when I say that many of them are extremely complex with serious ramifications.

    This is a much more difficult Ministry than Education.

  • “I sincerely doubt if she had or has an encyclopaedic knowlegde of every planning application”

    You don’t need one, fd. A simple Google search will bring up Sweeney/Seaport planning applications and appearances in court. The official documents that I’ve linked to on Slugger and elsewhere have been mainly butIt seems the least the Minister and her officials should have done before attributing merit/approval to any proposition linked to the development of such a prestigious site.

  • “have been mainly but” not exclusively uncovered from an internet search.

  • fair_deal

    Nevin

    “can you provide some evidence of this squabbling post the Memorandum of Understanding drawn up by DETI, NT and MDC back in 2005”

    Simple it wasn’t until just before Xmas 07 and after the ‘of a mind’ statement that they announced a deal on the land. This is almost two years after this memo and there was plenty of time before devolution to make these arrangements. If everything was so hunky dory why had it not resulted in such an agreement sooner?

    “You don’t need one, fd. A simple Google search ”

    A minister is not going to spend time googling the name of every development company that comes across their desk. Also AFAIK a planning application has to be considered on its own merits? Is my understanding incorrect?

  • “If everything was so hunky dory why had it not resulted in such an agreement sooner?”

    Hunky dory!! Is that supposed to be a synonym for ‘fairly harmonious’? Maybe an apt metaphor/trading name? Who’d buy a used boat from DUP Inc? 😉

    You seem to have missed the post-devolution DETI post-devolution ‘foot-dragging’ – and the DETI agency was the major partner.

    “A minister is not going to spend time googling the name of every development company that comes across their desk.”

    Hasn’t she got a flunky/special advisor to carry out menial tasks? fd, they’re talking world class visitor facilities and there only was one development company in the frame. Think of the embarrassment the Minister and the Executive could have been saved if a titter of wit had been applied …

    “Also AFAIK a planning application has to be considered on its own merits?”

    That would appear to have been the Foster folly. A careful reading of the UNESCO and other relevant reports would show that context is also a key factor. Another one would be the capability of the applicant to deliver so an in-depth background check on Seaport (NI) Limited (and its earlier aliases) should have been instigated prior to her ‘minded approval’ for such a prestigious project.

  • Sean Og

    Should you not declare any vested interest Crataegus, before getting stuck into Planners working for the common good?

  • fair_deal

    Nevin

    “You seem to have missed the post-devolution”

    You seem to have missed the period of over a year before devolution where the ‘fairly harmonious’ period didn’t deliver any advance.

    “Also AFAIK a planning application has to be considered on its own merits?”

    Is that the case or not?

  • “You seem to have missed the period of over a year before devolution where the ‘fairly harmonious’ period didn’t deliver any advance.”

    That would be the the year in which the Chuckle Brothers swithered about devolution and, presumably, the Direct Rule ministers didn’t fully follow up on the progress made in arriving at a structural design competition winner.

    At some point in early 2007 DETI officials apparently adopted a process of ‘foot-dragging’ and in September Dodds pulled the plug on funding. Did he consult with the other parties to the Memorandum prior to to the September 10 announcement, fd, or did he simply collude with Foster and pull the plug?

    The Ministerial Code S 2.4 indicates that a project involving more than one ministry should be brought to the Executive Committee. Was this done, fd?

    “‘Also AFAIK a planning application has to be considered on its own merits?’

    Is that the case or not?”

    Not, apparently, fd. Foster asserts that the Sweeney/Seaport outline application – allegedly UNESCO endorsed – had merit (unspecified) – and ditched it!!

  • fair_deal

    Nevin

    The NT and Moyle did not need DETI’s or DRM’s permission to come to the arrangements they did.

    On the own merits bit you keeping adding the particulars of the case rather than the procedural question.

  • fd, the particulars are highly relevant, they’re also part of the procedures; that was why and how Foster was ‘forced’ to do a U-turn.

    The arrangements they’ve currently arrived at are incomplete; I understand they’re still being hindered by DETI foot-dragging. It’s now also much more difficult for the Paisleys and the two DUP ministers to facilitate cronyism. You may also have noted that McAllister is still a DUP councillor despite this, something that would have been expected to lead to an early bath. There could well be further revelations that could cause huge embarrassment to the DUP leadership.

    It’s possible that the Sweeney/Seaport ‘consortium’ could go to the Planning Appeal Commission – or, perhaps, through the courts to have Foster’s recent decision thrown out. It might be necessary to check the list of Seaport investors/home owners et al for possible conflicts of interest