Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's planning appeals 'face backlog'

The Planning Appeals Commission has a backlog of 13 pending major cases but can only deal with one case at a time, its head has said.

Maire Campbell said each of these cases would either have to go to a public inquiry or a detailed planning hearing.

Her comments came amid renewed focus on the Planning Service after Ryanair decided to quit Belfast City Airport.

It blamed further delays to a public inquiry into a planned runway extension.

Last month, the Planning Appeals Commission delayed a planned public inquiry into the proposed extension until further information is provided by the airport.

Other high-profile planning cases include the proposed John Lewis store at Sprucefield, which has been under consideration for several years.

Ms Campbell said her commission was "overburdened".

"At the present time, a total of seven new proposals have been referred to us and that includes the current Sprucefield proposal," she said.

"The Planning Service have indicated to us that they intend to refer a further six proposals to us, and that includes the proposed runway extension at the Belfast City Airport.

"That major proposal has not yet been completely referred to the Commission and we are not yet dealing with it."


Ryanair and Mr O'Leary were accused on Wednesday of trying to "blackmail" the authorities in Northern Ireland by Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster.

"If you search on the internet for 'Ryanair pulls out', a whole raft of places will come up. The reason always given is the government and airports haven't done what we asked them to do," she said.

"Quite frankly, if that's the way Michael O'Leary operates, to blackmail governments and airports, we have to take considered opinions in relation to decisions, and that's what we're going to do."

The planning process in Northern Ireland was described as "torturous" by the chairman of Stormont's enterprise committtee.

Alban Maginness said the Ryanair case highlighted the length of time it takes for major planning decisions, something which he said was making Northern Ireland a "laughing stock".

"If you want to attract investors into Northern Ireland - and everyone wants to do that - then we've got to have a planning service and planning decisions that are timely," Mr Maginness said.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots said he had believed for a long time that Northern Ireland needed to get planning applications turned around more quickly.

He said some planning cases being heard by this commission had been repeatedly delayed by "vested interests".

Mr Poots said he believed too many judicial reviews were being granted.

"Government is being run by writ rather than by wit," he said.

Belfast City Airport has wanted to build a runway extension for some time and it would have enabled Ryanair to fly to destinations much further afield.

On Tuesday, Mr O'Leary said it was disappointing that three years after Ryanair's Belfast City base opened, the proposed runway extension had not been approved.

He also said if permission was granted in the future, then Ryanair would come back.

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