MLAs back DUP and SF economic planning zone proposals


Video of the second part of the debate is on two pages due to its length. The second video can be viewed here.

MLAs voted in favour of a DUP and Sinn Fein amendment for the setting-up of economic planning zones, but the conclusion of the debate on the consideration stage of the Planning Bill was delayed, on 24 June 2013.

The Planning Bill debate resumed after Question Time.

Peter Weir of the DUP criticised an Alliance amendment on world heritage sites. He saw this as an attack on the environment minister's granting of permission to develop a golf resort at Runkerry.

The site is just over a mile away from the entrance to the Giant's Causeway, in County Antrim.

Mr Weir said the amendment was "a relatively blatant attempt to undermine that decision".

John McCallister of NI21 said Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan's view of fracking was unclear.

"He's really going to have to get off the fence," Mr McCallister said.

Replying to the debate on the first group of amendments, Environment Minister Alex Attwood said they touched on one or two clauses out of a bill of 28 clauses.

"We shouldn't lose sight of the wood for the trees," he said.

Mr Attwood said the bill was required to prepare for the devolution of planning powers to the new local councils and it included "the structural and architectural changes that will make planning fit-for-purpose".

Regarding the Runkerry decision, the minister said he rebutted "any argument that what we have been doing has somehow been running a coach and horses through protections and policies that we have in place when it comes to the Giant's Causeway".

The Green Party and UUP amendments were defeated.

The second part of the debate concerned an amendment by the DUP and Sinn Fein allowing for the establishment of "economically significant planning zone schemes".

In effect, it would mean that the first and deputy-first ministers would be in charge of planning in certain areas, rather than the environment minister.

Sinn Fein's Cathal Boylan said this was a measure aimed at "growing the economy", and he said it was not paving the way for fracking.

Mr Boylan said it was about creating jobs and "trying to keep our young people here".

Anna Lo of Alliance, who chairs the Environment Committee, said she was "shocked" when she read the amendment.

She said the first time she had heard of the amendment was the previous week, and the committee had not had time to discuss it.

Mrs Lo said her party would oppose the amendment and that it would give the DUP and Sinn Fein "the green light to approve fracking in Fermanagh".

The DUP's Simon Hamilton said the amendment represented "another arrow in the economic quiver of Northern Ireland".

He said his party had the right to bring an amendment at consideration stage.

Dolores Kelly of the SDLP wanted to know why Sinn Fein and the DUP had not involved the environment minister in their discussions.

She said it was "another example of how the Sinn Fein DUP junta does business" and that it was "all contrary to the Good Friday Agreement".

Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan said that, like many other people, he was "shocked, horrified when we saw the amendment".

Basil McCrea of NI21 said that "they are at a single stroke going to do away with the Department of the Environment".

"War has been declared on this Assembly," he said.

The TUV's Jim Allister likened the amendment to an ambush on the environment minister

He said it had to be "the most audacious power-grab this house has seen for a long time" and called on the parties opposed to the amendment to quit the Executive "and force the issue of opposition in this house".

The environment minister quoted from part of the "so-called economic pact" signed by Prime Minster David Cameron, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, and the first and deputy first ministers, stating that:

"The Executive will establish a new process for economically-significant planning applications and make new arrangements in relation to applications for judicial review of planning decisions".

The minister questioned whether London should be able to use Northern Ireland "as a place to sample and test new law when it comes to significant planning applications and JRs (judicial reviews)".

He said he had legal advice that the Sinn Fein and DUP proposals would be in breach of EU legislation and domestic law.

The amendment was passed by 60 votes to 32.

The debate on the remaining amendments was postponed as the DUP lodged a petition of concern, meaning that votes on some of the amendments would have to be rescheduled.

The first part of the debate can be viewed here.

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