High Court rules NI Environment Minister’s official statements to Assembly unlawful

The BBC reports that the High Court has ruled that the then NI Environment Minister, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, unlawfully changed planning policy in two ministerial statements to the Assembly in May and June of last year.  Mr Justice Treacy ordered the ministerial statements to be quashed.  From the BBC report

…lawyers for the Department of the Environment argued the statements merely offered clarification and guidance within an existing and well established policy framework and did not amount to a change in planning policy.

However, Mr Justice Treacy disagreed and said they went beyond mere advice or information aimed at resolving a difficulty.

They were plainly intended, particularly in the case of the economic statement, to bring about a material change in the way planning applications were determined and to influence the outcome,” the judge said. [added emphasis]

He ruled there should have been a public consultation on any change of such significance and quashed the statements which were made in May and June of last year.

Adds  From the  UTV report

[Mr Justice Treacy] “In the Court’s judgment the respondent misdirected himself in concluding that the statements did not represent a change in planning policy.

“He also, in consequence of that misdirection, failed to consult which is accepted would have been required if, as I have held to be the case, these statements amounted to a change of policy.”

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  • Mark McGregor

    Pete,

    This may also have an impact on Poots’ recent decision on the Glenavy incinerator. That is due for judicial review in Feb.

  • Pete Baker

    It’s certainly possible.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Who elected Mr. Justice Treacy ??

  • joeCanuck

    HG,
    That’s a fair question. However in a democracy, the Courts are necessary to prevent despotic government. The Justice didn’t make new law; just stopped Mr.Wilson from doing so on the fly. If the Government doesn’t like what the Judge did they have a remedy – pass a new law after discussion in the Assembly.

  • fin

    Actually Joe its not a fair question, Justice Treacy doesn’t make the laws, don’t kill the messanger!!

  • joeCanuck

    Read on, Fin. I answered the question and certainly did not shoot the messenger.

  • Angry Planner

    Not really surprising! The DUP’s tenure at Environment has been an unmitigated disaster, at least Sammy was preferable to the incumbent imbecile who was in the process of trying to extend the “economic benefit” test so as to water down the nature and building conservation policies, PPS’s 2 and 6, primarily to try and get John Lewis through.

    Pootsie would be better served trying to sort out the impending fiasco over the e-Pic computer system which has crippled Belfast Planning Office as it is so slow and causes consultations to vanish into the ether! He would also be better at stopping the redeployment of staff instead of making puerile remarks about staff “working harder and smarter” when he doesn’t even know the right way to hold an application file!

  • Bungditin

    AP – a bit late for the redeployment of staff from what I hear? Regarding the “e-Pic computer system” – if your view on how it has affected Belfast Planning Office is correct, then someone in your department is misleading your minister and the assembly environment committee! I admit it wouldn’t be dificult to fool the former! Perhaps you could elaborate on on how it is crippling the Belfast office?

  • Angry Planner

    Quite simply it’s slow and unreliable. It keeps crashing and the consultations for other agencies such as Roads Service often just vanish off the system, they’ve also lost a number of fee receipts. One of the features of the system is that all plans are to be scanned in so the public can look them up online and consultees don’t need to be sent hard copies in the post, unfortunately the system can’t accept anything over A3 in size, most planning drawings are A1 or A0 and the scanning process is slow and labour intensive, not really a good idea when you’re losing nearly all of your admin staff! When the consultee gets the electronic consultation, they can’t print the plan out to scale which is not a good idea!!

    Management are trying to deflect blame for the system’s problems by claiming that staff didn’t know how to use the system, that simply means that the training wasn’t sufficient!! Just after e-Pic was introduced, PTO grade planners were offered a chance to redeploy to LPS for the farm survey project. Every eligible planner in Belfast DPO volunteered because they didn’t want to use the new system!

    Just to highlight how worried the top brass are, in classic NICS fashion the Director of Corporate Services, who was responsible for the project has been quietly shuffled off to DSD and the Chief Executive has gone off on stress leave which is being seem as the first step to her being similarly eased out!

  • FrustratedPlanner

    Well said AngryPlanner
    That really is a great summary of the EPIC position – the politicians just havnt a clue cos Poots doesn’t know and even if he did he wouldn’t have the balls to tell the Assemebly that he is overseeing another total waste of public time and money just like RPA.
    And yes, the MoyPark incinerator must now be refused on the back of the Economic policy judgement.
    Poots tried to railroad it through the system but alas he will now fail!

  • Bungditin

    AP – thanks for clarifying. If this is the case it should really be drawn to the attention of the Environment Committee and the NI Audit Office. Sounds like a case for the Public Accounts Committee!

  • Dr Concitor

    FP, I would be interested to know why this plant should be refused planning, given that, as far as I know, there are many such plants in rural England. I have no axe to grind, just curious. I

  • johnf

    The incinerator is a priority because chicken materials are a toxic biohazard not only to livestock but to humans. Apart from antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella, etc., the prospect of avian pig human flu transmission is now with us.
    Read MAKING ANIMALS HAPPY
    ISBN978-0-7475-9714-8 .

    So the chicken waste will become CO2 with a small dividend of steam power.

    I see this as a stopgap to conform with stringent health legal requirements. A future plant will use PYROLYSIS which is the slow cooking of all organic wastes to extract all manner of useful oils, gases, charcoal etc. The Blue Tower is an interesting German pilot plant.

  • Angry Planner

    Dr. Personally I don’t know enough about the proposal to comment on it’s merits but it definitely should have been referred to a public inquiry. That’s what the JR will be about not the merits of the application, just as with John Lewis the DUP aided by the spineless Planning Service management tried to ram it through without proper scrutiny. I’ll be the first to admit that the system is too slow for major apps but a lot of the EIA legislation comes from Brussels and the correct proceedures HAVE to be followed. John Lewis would likely have been approved in some form had Rooker, Hanson and co just kept out of it and just let the process run. The problem isn’t JL itself but the other units associated with it, but by trying to short circuit the process they’ve left it wide open to JR.

    FP good to see someone else speaking out! There’s literally dozens of apps that were pushed through by Wilson’s statement, all those decisions would now be wide open to legal challenge!!

  • Dr Concitor

    Thanks for the reply AP. I think you are absolutely right, something as contentious as this should have gone to a public enquiry. I’am sure it is needed to support agri-business in NI but not following correct procedures helps nobody in the long run.

  • joeCanuck

    Dr. Concitor,

    I know nothing about this case. But environmental considerations have to take into account the local environment as well as the process. What may be acceptable in one place may not be so in another.

  • Dr Concitor

    Joe, the EIA AP mentions is Environmental Impact Assessment which is designed to cover local impacts, such as sensitive habitats, noise, traffic etc,etc. The planning process if properly done is very robust, and what seems to be happening here at the minute is unwarranted political interference by people that do not know what they are doing. If planning for this plant had gone to a public enquiry then the local people would have had a chance to voice their concerns and possibly get it stopped, but since it has been rail-roaded through they probably feel that they are being shafted by the system