Concerns over ‘make it up as they go’ planning

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COUNCILLORS have raised serious concerns after it was revealed that MPs and MLAs can defer planning applications after they have been passed by the council.

In the past, after planning applications had passed through the council stage there was no further opportunity for a decision to be deferred or reconsidered.

However, at last week’s Planning and Consultation Committee meeting, chair Alderman Paul Girvan revealed that MPs and MLAs could now defer an application after it had been passed through the council.

He said this was because local planning administration had recently moved to the Ballymena office of the Planning Service, which had operated in this manner for some time.

He told councillors: “In my view the way we have worked has always been the best way, but because Ballymena has always worked in a different manner they are now allowing this to happen.

“It’s not a change in planning policy, it is just a different interpretation of the rules and regulations.”

Alderman Girvan said there had been one planning application which had been deferred after Newtownabbey Council had passed it.

DUP councillor Mark Cosgrove said he had “grave concerns” about the revelation.

He said: “The council should be the last body of scrutiny. We should be able to go back to constituents with a degree of security and confidence on the result of planning applications.

“The Planning Service can not just make it up as it goes along, which it appears is the case in this instance - this could be very embarrassing and makes a nonsense of the system if MLAs and MPs can frustrate the issue.”

Alliance representative Lynn Frazer added: “The council should be the last consultee and for decisions that have passed through this council to be overturned after that is a big issue.”

Local planning officer John Davison added: “It is inevitable there is a degree of variation in the overall process of planning and between different councils and this is not the approach we have followed in Newtownabbey, but the practice in other areas.”

Councillors agreed to send a letter to the Ballymena office outlining the process Newtownabbey Council has followed in the past and urging them to adopt the same system for all its planning applications.