“people within the system must not be allowed to resist that because of their own prejudices..”

Not content with lobbying his own departmental officials, on behalf of individual planning applications, the Northern Ireland Environment Minister, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, has now publicly criticised Planning Service for refusing a planning application for what would have been Belfast’s tallest building – the 109 metres tall, 37 storey, Aurora tower. From the iol report

The East Antrim Assembly member, who is also a Belfast City councillor, said if he had the power to the make the call on the Aurora he would have definitely given it the green light. “There are still those within the planning system who see their role as being totally divorced from the well being of the economy,” he said.

“They see their job as just ticking boxes, interpreting policies and quoting policies and don’t think they’ve a role in generating jobs, giving people a livelihood or generating economic growth. “Some professional planners are so inside their own boxes that they don’t see the wider picture. “There are currently millions of pounds of investment from private developers held up in the planning system.”

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  • slug

    SLug – doesn’t the Minister have the final say? So, don’t the developers now know they should appeal?

  • slug

    I meant to address that to Pete, not myself.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    The planning office is a complete joke, they’re morons letting on to be professionals. I had an uncle who was refused planning permission on a 3rd storey building and was granted a 2 storey building. The reason given that it was dominating the surropundings. The fact is the surrounding buildings are all 3 story and now his house sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s the dwarf in the row. They’re a total bunch of brainless idiots.

  • Mark McGregor

    What are planning meant to do other than interpret and quote policy? He isn’t expecting them to ignore it or write it is he?

    If he has a problem with how officials implement legislation that is now his problem as he, his colleagues and party have responsibility for the legislation they deal with.

    Now of course someone could suggest the DUP seem keen on encouraging civil servants to ignore or break planning regulations and wonder why that is but that someone isn’t me.

  • cut the bull

    Maybe the planning office has taken into account some of the apartments that have been built along the Lagan are flooding in the basement area and at the bottom of the lift shafts when the water is high. How did the developers ever get planning permission for these developments.
    Building on reclaimed land tends to have its own problems especially when you intend to build a 37 storey sky scraper.

  • cut the bull

    Sammy should take a good look at the Albert clock and this may persuade him that this proposed sky scraper may not be such a great idea after all.

  • Pete Baker


    As I understand it any appeal on a Planning Service decision would be decided by the Planning Appeals Commission.

    What’s not clear is why Sammy Wilson, et al, are reportedly setting up meetings with the Planning Service at this stage.

    If, as that implies, the application is still ‘live’ it makes this public statement by the NI Environment Minister even more bizarre.

  • graduate

    Time to get rid of dual mandate. Sammy’s comments show there’s a clear conflict of interest for those double- jobbing between Stromont, councils and Westminster. I would think that since he’s in charge of planning legislation he should have considered that before opening his mouth.

  • gram

    First we get his views on global warming, now planning and economic regeneration. Is there anything this man can’t turn his hand to? Sammy’s wasted in Belfast.

  • Driftwood

    Hopefully the Aurora project will sink in to the Mud. Be a great metaphor for Stormont.

  • Comrade Stalin

    This is Sammy managing his public persona as a guy who steps into a messed-up department and cleans it up. Remember John Reid slagging off the Home Office a short time after he took over ? Same idea. It’s a good way to set the scene to make sure that by the time you leave office, if it’s still bad (or only slightly improved) people are prepared.

    There’s a lot of work required in the Planning area and I hope Sammy is up for making some serious reforms. We need to stop developers holding onto land while stalling the planning system by continuously resubmitting their applications with small modifications – the fees for submitting modified plans need to be drastically increased. We also need developers to be held responsible for what goes on in their land before it is developed.

  • aquifer

    If Sammy does not like operating planning law then he should get together with his assembly colleagues and change it. Or is that beyond him?

    I like this assembly. Playing the old SFDUP blame game is no longer defiance, but an admission of political weakness.

  • cut the bull

    Hopefully the Aurora project will sink in to the Mud. Be a great metaphor for Stormont.

    Posted by Driftwood on Jan 11, 2009 @ 09:29 PM

    Thats a realistic possibility and I’m sure Paddy Power would be willing to lay you odds short odds that is on the prospect of this happening.
    Remeber the unfloodable underpass.

  • cut the bull

    Has Sammy or the DUP any connection with the developer/developers of this site?

  • cut the bull

    Has Sammy or any DUP MLA’s any friendly or family connection with the developer/developers of this site?

  • jone

    Never mind planning permission I’d be absolutely astonished if any bank will lend the money for a speculative build on this scale.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Asking whether the DUP are connected with developers is a bit like asking whether there’s salt in the sea.

  • Peat Blog

    It is still a live application as it went to the City Council last week and no decision letter will have been sent out yet. He can call it in – he is the Minister after all…

    I for the life of me can’t work out how a developer working out of Ballycastle can possibly propose Ireland’s tallest building, and is still pursing this in a small regional city which continues to lose population, in the midst of a debilitating credit crisis and when other such hair-brained schemes have been mothballed or scraped in one of the most expensive cities in the world (i.e. Dublin)?

  • Peat Blog

    The devloper has 6 months from refusal within which to make an appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission, which is under the OFMDFM.

  • Alan


    You have hit one nail firmly on the head. Planning creep is s serious problem for communities in Belfast. I know of two areas within a stones throw of each other where different developers substantially extended their original planning agreements by using small amendments.

    In both cases, extra stories were added resulting in neighbouring properties losing all of their natural light to the back of the home. You can’t use rooms in the back of those properties now without having the light on. And because it was only an amendment, there was no consultation with neighbours – or so it was explained to me.

  • Le Corbusier

    Alan and Comrade,

    There is a growing problem of accountability within our planning system with massive pressure being applied by politicians for speedier desisions (including many applications not having to go through the respective local council) and much less opportunity for residents/objectors to get involved – you still have to drag yourself to the planning office to see the application and key IT projects within PS which would have made it easier haven’t been launched – what happened to ePic?

    Pre-application discussions on major applications between the planners and developers also mean that many are virtually guaranteed approval before they even make it into the local paper.

    The DUP are reminding me more and more of the “nasty” Conservatives of the 1980s, especially Norman Tebbit with his “jobs locked up in filing cabinet” view of the planning system. On yer bike Sammy!

  • malachy


    As reported in local media outlets (Newry Reporter), at the recent monthly Council meeting whilst debating n issue relating to Council services, SDLP Councillor John Feehan, who has just returned from a pre Christmas Council visit to Russia, stated that Council workers got overtime at festivals to “sit on their backsides”. This is a totally unwarranted and unjustified attack on the commitment and indeed integrity of Council staff and I would call on Councillor Feehan to publicly withdraw his slur. During the latest festival, where I and many other low paid Council staff were working, the Halloween Festival, the only ones that we saw sitting on their backsides were those including Councillor Feehan, who were availing of the free food and drink in the hospitality lounge in the Arts Centre. This unjustified attack on Newry and Mourne Council workers by a Councillor has to be challenged by all right thinking people. Councillor Feehan must apologise and withdraw his slur

    “Council Employee who appreciates a bit of overtime”

  • cynic


    A Minister has views and doesn’t just do / think / say just what his officials tell him. Whatever next!

    Oh yes…and he happens to be right. This development would transform a down at heel dump of an area but the planners have a plan and want to push development like this into certain areas around the city centre chosen by them …..but (until recently) try to get them to stop someone building 20 apartments in the garden next door and sorry they don’t do that as policy is to increase density.

    We need a new system. Let’s hope Sammy will bring one in.

  • x

    from a quick google search, if the developers are McAlister Holdings – then it appears the Developers are from Ballycastle (constituency North Antrim), have interests in the marine hotel (recently closed,) seems they are proposing to build a new hotel, have offered money to help regenerate the cityscape of Belfast and had an unfortunate fire in a set of victorian buildings in 2007. All allegedly of course.

    At a glance!

  • Dec

    During the latest festival, where I and many other low paid Council staff were working, the Halloween Festival, the only ones that we saw sitting on their backsides were those including Councillor Feehan, who were availing of the free food and drink in the hospitality lounge in the Arts Centre.

    Presumably Halloween (and it’s attendant overtime) didn’t fall on one of the 16.93 days in the year you and your ‘co-workers’ in Newry and Mourne phone in a sickie?

  • Curious

    Spoke to someone I know who works in The Planning Service and as you can imagine this outburst has gone down like a lead balloon. Apparently I’m told that Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson both wrote letters of support for this application, apparently you can view them by making an appointment at Belfast Planning Office to view the file, there’s nothing illegal in them doing that by the way.

    Oh Le Corbusier, the “locking jobs in filing cabinets” was actually Michael Heseltine!

  • Comrade Stalin


    You have hit one nail firmly on the head. Planning creep is s serious problem for communities in Belfast. I know of two areas within a stones throw of each other where different developers substantially extended their original planning agreements by using small amendments.

    Alan, that is not exactly what I meant. In a situation I am familiar with, there is a development nearby where the developer submitted planning proposals. Approximately a year later, he submitted a modification to the proposals. They were very minor but my suspicion was that he was manipulating the system in order to blame the planning system for the delay in proceeding with the development. I guess when a modificaton is submitted, the application gets sent to the back of the queue again. There needs to be a mechanism to stop this abuse which reduces the effectiveness of the planning service.

    That said, the problem you are talking about is clearly very serious. Amendments of any kind to the application should require the entire planning application to be resubmitted and re-reviewed, with all the associated fees being paid. This would encourage developers to make sure their application is right in the first instance. I think that the planning service should also provide a paid-for consultation service (where the developer would have the option of paying a fee) to allow plans to be reviewed prior to submission, to filter out any big and obvious problems like the one that caused Aurora to get rejected. If the government decides that it wishes to target areas for regeneration, provision can be made to reimburse developers the fees for any successful planning application and/or assist them with their planning activities.

    The truth is that developers need to bear more of the cost of planning and they get away with a hell of a lot, including bad siting, poor construction standards, and wilful manipulation of the planning system. Due to the DUP’s influence in the government (irrespective of whether or not a DUP minister is in charge of planning) I don’t expect any changes to the planning arrangements that will result in inconvenience for developers, which is a shame.

  • Comrade Stalin

    And yes, I don’t quite know what Sammy is at. As minister he has the power to overrule any planning application. Nigel Dodds did this with Victoria Square, which was originally rejected (based, I believe, on planning guidelines concerning the listed building(s) on the site).