Countdown to revelations about planning practices

Today is the deadline for responses to a Friends of the Earth online survey that has attracted over four hundred submissions on local planning practices. Responses from across society and the professions, including a number of revelations from within the developer-planner nexus, promise to make for uncomfortable reading for those charged with the protection of our natural and built environments. Here, the Director of Friends of the Earth, James Orr talks about some of the findings.

From the stories about one new home constructed within a County Down shed to the one about a supermarket built over the site of paupers’ graves, the revelations range from the surreal to the profane. Orr and his partners at Queens University have begun their analysis of the survey material with a view to submitting their report to the Government as it undertakes a comprehensive reform of local planning.

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  • Cynic2

    Sorry but I have to say … what? It will be an FOE propaganda paper

  • Cynic2

    I will bet it:

    * suggests current controls are too lax
    * argues for less development (at a time when the economy is tanking)
    * claims we are impacting global warming

    By the way – have you seen the shocking results from the CERN CLOUD experiment? It’s terrible. A very high proportion of global warming has been created by more heat from the sun during the normal solar cycles.

    What will we do now without something else to worry about

  • Mick Fealty


    So you think there’s nothing wrong with the current planning system? Or do you reserve the right to be cynical about that too?

  • Cynic2


    I think that there’s lots wrong with it but we have very few people on a large land area. One of the issues is the way in which development options are limited to maximize opportunities for the right class / type of developer ie the type that builds tacky little boxes and charges the earth for them. Another are those who destroy our architectural heritage to build tacky blocks of flats (Whoops!! Anyone smell smoke around here)

    But unlike FOE I favour development – a lot of it – as the way to pull NI out of the slough of economic respond.

    My cynicism wasn’t therefore about the state of the law or development polices – but more about the concept of an FOE report as a dynamic and fair assessment of them. Is that unreasonable?

  • Mick Fealty

    To be fair to James, that’s not what he’s highlighting. Nor is he saying that are any of those handling the system at fault. The system itself mint benefit from greater transparency and coherence.

    The issue of whether development as an economic is a good thing or not is a separate matter.

  • PaulT

    AAAaaarrrgghhh, am I in agreement with Mick!!!!

    Cynic2, if lots of development is the way to economic success what happened south of the border?

    What HMG wants is to make development cheap and easy at the expense of quality of life.

    I have a vested interest in this, Crystal Palace FC are in the process of taking our local playing fields (50 acres, 6 pitches, and used by 200 teenagers) to build their training ground, they already have one, but, by using a trust it opens up public spaces to them which can be bought much cheaper than commercial land and therefore they’ll save a few quid.

    A house, shop, office is just a form of manufacturing, as with all manufacturing it can be high quality or rubbish

  • Drumlins Rock

    Just did the survey quickly, it was emotionally distressing as I have probably ticked the 26-35 box for the last time :(,
    Quite a complex survey even for someone like me involved in everyside of the debate, for example there are question about politicians, and locally in the west I am pretty sure their role dosn’t go much beyond fairly representing their constituents, however in other areas, like say Castlereagh as a random example, there may be more questionable decisions.
    Many of the questions are leading and I am sure have an agenda, just not sure which ones they were though. Havnt read the examples yet, will se what they are like. Would agree with Cynic’s view that “smoking buildings” should not be rewarded, my blood still boils crossing Craigavon Bridge.

  • Cynic2

    Paul T


  • Cynic2

    Paul T

    1 Dont equate development with tacky little boxes – see earlier comments

    2 Then try and lease a small industrial unit at a reasonable rent to set up a small business. If you can find one, good luck. For 20 years the politicians who even bothered to consider planning put housing first when the market was already saturated with apartments. I can only assume it was more ‘profitable’

  • Cynic2

    ” I am pretty sure their role dosn’t go much beyond fairly representing their constituents”

    ……… it’s touching to see someone so naiive. Some years ago I spoke to an investor. He was keen to set up a business in West Belfast. He couldn’t understand why there was no political support – quite the reverse. Until, that was, someone pointed out that a certain organisation had a profitable sideline going that might be affected by any competition. In the end he just gave up.

  • Master McGrath

    I have some experience of FoE and their attitudes to planning issues in Scotland and as someone who began as an entire cynic with notions that they (FoE) are all woolly jumpered bunny huggers totally out to frustrate any development boy was I in for a surprise.
    FoE causes fear on this side of the water in the Planning Depts. as the cozy easy chummy attitudes that have allowed planning blight to ruin the environment for many people in different areas of Scotland is now subject to a VERY careful scrutiny from people who are really excellent at their approach to ensuring that people affected can actually get heard in the planning processes.
    The wide spread belief that ‘brown envelopes’ are still a feature of local government refuses to die out but many people are discovering that it is possible to fight City Hall successfully through the good offices of FoE training.
    Northern Ireland NEEDS as much input from FoE as it can get as so many very ‘peculiar’ decisions seem still to be made that are not necessarily in the public interest but a well sustained case could be made that it is entirely in that of the developers, and the notion of ‘brown envelopes’ being a feature of the entire planning process is alive and well and living in NI needs the disinfectant of daylight scrutiny.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ve been working on a story regarding an ancient woodland at Prehen in Derry. No one involved with the campaign there thinks the people they deal with are anything but civil and sincere.

    But there seems to be little official pressure on the planners to explain their specific reasons for setting aside certain forms of tangible evidence.

  • GwenK9

    The problem with Cynic, as with many other people in NI, is that they think that development – any development – is a good thing. Somehow they’ve fallen for this notion that the more development we have the richer we get. WRONG! Many forms of development can actually leave this place economically weaker and less resilient for the future. The big supermarkets that we welcomed as a sign of normality as the Troubles ebbed away themselves result in leaking huge amounts of money out of the region in terms of profits and money to forgien suppliers, in return for a few low paid jobs. There are so many other examples of this – the urban sprawl that has been so badly planned that now thousands of us spend increasing proportions of our dwindling income on petrol to get to places of work… the homes not connected onto the main sewer system that leak into the watefrcourses and cost us thousands in clean up very year…. there are plenty of other really bad examples, and yes probably a few good ones too. The future state of our settlements and countryside, the fabric of our society, should be central to the very notion of politics – but somehow it isn’t, is it? That’s because many people have fallen for the development dream, just like Cynic. The dominant debate on planning here is less than shallow, ranging from NIMBY to NeoCon. Every civilised society needs a strong NGO community to ask the questions that developers and the politicans (that they fund) are shy of asking. I say well done to FoE for starting this debate; they’ve given us a chance to say what we think of planning, so let’s see what the survey says, but I bet it won’t be pretty reading. If it is a thumbs down for planning it can be added to the “official” condemnation of the planning system by the NI Select Affairs Committee, the NI Planning Commission and the NI Audit Office. How bad can it get before we claim our towns, cities and villages as our own?