Durkan will not proceed with 'toxic' planning bill

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The environment minister said he would not proceed with the Planning Bill following legal advice, on 22 October 2013.

Mark Durkan said changes to the bill backed by the DUP and Sinn Fein could run counter to the European Convention on Human Rights.

He said he was concerned about amendments made to the bill at consideration stage, including a proposal to introduce Economically Significant Planning Zones (ESPZs), with planning decisions controlled by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

"I have grave concerns about the amendments to the Planning Bill in respect of ESPZs and the restriction of the right to judicial review for legal, procedural and evidential reasons," the minister said.

The bill was designed to make changes to the law aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning system in advance of the transfer of planning functions to councils in 2015.

Mr Durkan said it was "clear that the intent of the amendments on ESPZs was not to introduce new planning powers, but simply to make OFMDFM a new planning authority in Northern Ireland".

He said he had concerns about proposals that would "limit the right to judicially review certain planning decisions taken by OFMDFM".

Anna Lo of Alliance, who chairs the Environment Committee, congratulated the minister for his "courage".

She expressed concerns about civil rights and judicial review.

Ms Lo said she had been contacted by many people who had "grave concerns" about the amendments.

The DUP's Pam Brown said Mr Durkan's decision flew in the face of the democratic decision of the Assembly.

The minister said the bill as it stood was "a toxic piece of legislation".

Sinn Fein's Cathal Boylan said he thought the amendments were compliant with EU legislation.

He asked the minister if he had sought advice from the Attorney General.

Mr Durkan said he had "not sought advice from the Attorney General, nor have I received any".

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