Northern Ireland

Mark H Durkan publishes planning blueprint for Northern Ireland

Mark H Durkan
Image caption Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the final document had been informed by constructive debate

A planning blueprint for Northern Ireland has been published by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan.

It pulls together 20 existing planning polices into a single Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS).

The SPSS confirms the "precautionary principle" approach to fracking, a method of oil and gas extraction.

It means fracking will not be allowed unless there is "robust evidence" of its safety on all environmental impacts.

It also confirm a "town centres first" approach to retailing.

Image caption Northern Ireland's 11 super councils began work in April 2015

The SPSS will be used as a guide for councils in the development of new Local Development Plans.

Mr Durkan said the final document had been informed by "a lively and constructive debate" following the publication of a draft version.

He said that, as a result, the final SPPS had been "much improved".

However, he said that there were significant issues raised which were beyond the scope of the SPPS, particularly in relation to renewable energy and strategic policy development in the countryside.

"Publishing the SPPS unlocks development potential, supports job creation and will aid economic recovery. but not at the expense of our planet, environment and people," Mr Durkan said.

"It consolidates over 800 pages of existing policy into a single document and brings clarity and certainty to important planning matters throughout the north."

The environment minister said that significantly and for the first time, a "no to fracking" was enshrined in policy, unless there was sufficient and robust evidence of its safety on all environmental impacts.

"I believe this is a sensible and reasonable approach," he said.

Overall, Mr Durkan said, this "key document" would "help ensure that the planning system delivers for all, now and for future generations".

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