Assembly passes DUP/SF planning amendment on judicial reviews

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The Assembly passed a DUP and Sinn Fein amendment to the Planning Bill that would restrict the ability of anyone who wanted to object to a planning decision by seeking a judicial review, on 25 June 2013.

If the bill is adopted this means that future objectors could only go to court if they thought a decision breached human rights or European law.

The debate on the consideration stage of the Planning Bill resumed after an overnight pause with votes on a series of amendments which required cross-community support as the DUP had lodged a valid petition of concern.

These amendments were defeated and the Assembly turned to debating the final grouping of amendments.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew moved an amendment aimed at introducing third-party appeals.

He said it seemed the DUP were "so beholden to their developer donors" that they had lodged a petition of concern in order to block it.

Mr Agnew criticised amendment 26, put by the DUP and Sinn Fein, which he said would restrict the right of appeal regarding planning decisions

"Challenge is a necessary function of a good democracy and indeed of good planning," he said.

Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who chairs the Environment Committee, said the amendment was "nothing short of an attack on democracy" and her party would not be supporting it.

Ms Lo said the proposal would not stand up to legal challenge.

The DUP's Peter Weir said the purpose of amendment 26 was "primarily to prevent delay in the planning system".

He said the planning regime in Northern Ireland had been a disincentive to potential investors.

Cathal Boylan of Sinn Fein said that "whether we like it or not we have a bad reputation in getting planning applications finally approved".

He cited the example of business rivals launching appeals simply to block their competitors.

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly said this was an example of a new coalition of the Lib Dems, Conservatives, Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan said it was "a real shame on both those parties to be agreeing this".

NI21 leader Basil McCrea said some might say the amendment was "the sort of process that a totalitarian regime might use".

TUV leader Jim Allister described it as a "tyrannical proposition".

The Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, spoke against amendment 26 on the basis that it was an attack on the process of judicial review.

"Judicial reviews have served us well," he said, citing their use by nationalists over the past 30 years.

The minister said Sinn Fein "are crossing a line that has been jealously guarded" because the British government and the DUP had dragged them there.

He described the amendment as "a huge hammer to crack a nut".

The Green amendment on third-party appeals was defeated on a cross-community vote, and the DUP/Sinn Fein amendment 26 was passed by 54 votes to 33.

The bill completed its consideration stage.

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