05/02/2012 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


05/02/2012

Andrew Neil and Tara Mills with the latest political news, interviews and debate. The Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, is the Sunday Interview.


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Hello. It has been branded a laughing stock and an obstacle to

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economic recovery, the planning process has taken many knocks, not

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least, over the time it takes to make a decision. Plans for a hotel

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and golf course near the Giant's Causeway have been considered for

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12 years. Now a decision is a minute, but dozens of other major

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developments are still stuck in the planning process. Do we have to pay

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an environmental price to benefit the economy? In a moment, we will

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hear from the minister. But first, with us for the next 20 minutes, we

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have at Lesley Macaulay, a member of the Conservative Party,

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Professor deja Heenan. Good morning to both of the year. Lesley, you

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jump ship from the Ulster Unionist Party two weeks ago. What made you

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go? I am very excited about our new party, the Northern Ireland

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Conservative Party. I am proud of the strategy that we have put

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together and our mission statement and our policies. But why did you

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leave the Ulster Unionists? I like what we are doing in Northern

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Ireland. We are building up a new policies and we are going to be

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making Northern Ireland into an Enterprise Zone. But those are not

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policies that are that much different from what the Ulster

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Unionists say they will do. We will have a direct link with the UK

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government and we will have a seat on the board of the Conservative

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Party. It does show for all of the political parties that you cannot

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take your support for granted. the last few years, the Ulster

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Unionist Party has been called a broad church. If we follow that

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analogy, people in Northern Ireland are losing faith in the broader

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church. You need to know what you Party stands for and you must unite

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behind that vision. The Ulster Unionists are in disarray. I think

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they need to get behind closed doors, sort out what the future of

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the party will look like, and if people at that stage want to leave,

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let them leave. This kind of public wrangling is unseemly and people

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are very switched off by it. When this article first appeared, should

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this have been done then? This has been going on for three weeks and

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it is the story that keeps on going. We needed decisive leadership at

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the start to bring people in to say, let's have a moratorium. There are

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lots of different stories and we have got to say, let's come

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together and decide what the issues are. Stay with us.

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He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. New plans for a

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shopping centre is just one of a number of proposals awaiting a

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decision by the Environment Minister.

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This area has been trading well through the recession, but the

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dynamic of this market town could be about to change. This

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development site on the outskirts has been in the pipeline for more

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than a decade. This week, Jim Shannon went to meet the

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Environmental Minister. For his part, Alex Attwood is giving

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nothing away, but I understand that he will make a final decision

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within weeks. If he gives it the go-ahead he will find himself, not

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for the first time, at war with the local town centre traders. Out of

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town retailing is doing nothing. It has a massive Betjeman's will

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affect. We do not know where these shoppers will come from. --

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detrimental effect. The Castlebawn proposal is being

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considered as an Article 31, a special category for major planning

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applications, the type most likely to be controversial and to end up

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at the Planning Appeals Commission or in court under judicial review.

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Another is the city airport's proposal to extend its runway.

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Ryanair pulled out over the delay in gaining permission. And that is

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not the only issue here. The impact of aircraft noise has caused a long

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running dispute between the airport and the residents. The Minister

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wants to break the logjam and to that end he's about to appoint a

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public examiner who'll study the levels of aircraft noise and report

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back to him in the summer. After that, it's likely that other issues

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like the airport's runway expansion plan will be able to move ahead

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thru the planning system. At the beginning of January, there were

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more than 50 major planning applications under Article 31.

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These include some of the most controversial developments in

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Northern Ireland. Alex Attwood has told his officials that he intends

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to clear at least half of these, and perhaps more, by the summer.

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What I have done is consistent with my authority and I have actively

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managed these applications. All of them count in a way that creates

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certainty. It brings people to a conclusion so that developers and

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communities and no one way or the other what will happen. --

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communities and no one way or the other.

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The Minister was hearing the concerns of environmentalists at an

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event in Stormont this week. Representatives of the construction

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industry were there also, and they say the Minister's commitment to

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efficiency is not replicated throughout planning. The main

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blockage has been the lack of individuals wanting to take

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decisions. What we need to see is an urgent fast-tracking of the

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planning reform. The way in which Northern Ireland's

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land and marine resources are managed is being overhauled, not

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least with the transfer of planning powers to local councils. The

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Minister has often said that he is looking across the water for

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inspiration. This leading expert in planning says a new vision is

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needed. What we have seen happening in the devolved UK is how the

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different planning regimes have tried to concentrate on how they

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might improve the efficiency and -- effectiveness and also the equity

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of planning. If we look to see what has been happening in Scotland,

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they have been working on the modernisation of the planning

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system for over 10 years. These things cannot happen overnight. We

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have to think of a culture change where all of the parties are

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involved in putting a planning system into action that will work.

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With me now is the environment minister. Let's look at the City

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Airport first of all. What can they tell us that Europe department

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cannot? Since 2006 there has been a legacy issue, long before I came

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into being a minister, that there was a nuisance issue with the

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airport. So I came in, and for the first time in a long time, there

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was some doubt. They had a public examination involving the abuse of

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the airport and the effect on the committee. -- the views. The

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significance of this is that there will be certainty for everyone and

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it will enable the airport, if it wishes to, to have for the

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commercial development. We can make a judgment on that at a certain

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time. Is that passing the buck said that you can tell residents that it

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it goes against them you can point the finger to England? There is a

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standard process where you bring in people to give advice. Why can we

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not assess so much noise? Why can we not do that? That I decide this

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is what we will do, then I would be in court, challenged by either the

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airport or the residents. In any case, this matter should be

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determined in a public process, giving everyone an opportunity to

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influence it, and then I will make a decision. I will not hide from

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the decision. I make decisions on critical issues that have been

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hanging around for too long. So you will go through all of these

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controversial issues, it gets decisions on them, but how can you

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assure the public that there will not be more court cases and three

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will be sitting here with no decision in another five years?

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People are entitled to challenge what they think is a bad policy and

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the courts can make a determination on that. What I hope is that

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because I have demonstrated, perhaps more than any other

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minister in recent times, a very firm commitment to our

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archaeological heritage at protecting the environment, and the

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cars come on the other hand, I have demonstrated that I am determined

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to make a planning application that is a economically significant,

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people might say that he has got the balance right. If I make a

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judgment call, they will take it to the courts. Has it been down to

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ministerial decisions in the past? I think there is too much

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challenging of our decisions through the courts. But how do you

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stop that? Is that the fundamental block, that the decisions are not

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made in a tight way? Why not have each side say their piece during

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the planning process and then the decision is made as much some

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people think there is too much say during the planning stage. There

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are people with the resources or the opportunity. I am a believer in

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reform. I believe that Northern Ireland has been served very well

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by reform. I will judge myself and hope that I am judged by that level

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of reform. I inherited 50 or so planning applications of

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significant economic development. 21st January and the end of

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February, one-quarter of those will have been decided. Between now and

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the end of the summer, are many more will be decided. You have to

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make decisions and make it in the right time and make sure that you

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protect the environment on one hand and make sure that the economy is

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fit. But out of the one that you have planned and made decisions on,

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you must have an idea of how those are going to go. What percentage of

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those will go to court? De and ask the developers and the applicants.

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-- go and ask. I cannot legislate against someone going out and

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seeking judicial review. The courts have responsibility here. I support

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very strongly that our courts now use judicial review to interrogate

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public policy decisions across policing, justice and planning. But

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maybe there is not an issue -- maybe there is an issue about the

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door being too widely opened and that should be more managing --

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were managed. I can apply good practice and ensure that no stone

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is left unturned to get those decisions out the door and also

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demonstrate that there is no compromise in going forward. Let's

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look at the research published this week. It says that accusations of

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corruption and indecisiveness in the planning service exists and

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that it is all in a shambles. think there is some truce -- truth

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in what they say. There is evidence that demonstrate the planning

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system is getting more and more fit for purpose. Over 90 % of wind

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farms have been approved. Nearly 85 % of individual wind turbines have

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been approved. I think that is a vital statistic and we should build

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on it. Renewables is the single biggest economic option that more

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than Ireland has given the quality of the tide and wind. We face the

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Atlantic. I think that is a snapshot of the view of insiders

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around the planning system. There is also good evidence, especially

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now that there is a new senior management team, that every stone

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is being unturned and there is dramatic reform similar to the

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Scottish system. Why has it taken so long? It should not have taken

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so long. But why did it take so long? You must know. It is not an

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easy decision. There is a world heritage status and that

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environment lobby is very strong and we have a lot to a value. In my

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view, there were parts of the planning system that do not bring

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forward advice in good time and that should not have happened, and

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in any case, there is a ministerial responsibility when it comes to

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planning applications to say to the planning system, it is time to make

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a decision so bring a foreword the advice. That is what I said. 10

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days ago I went out and walked the land and I looked at the Bush mills

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and the sand dunes along the Giant's Causeway and I will make a

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decision before Valentine's Day. I have some other business with

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family on Valentine's Day. Lesley, this is part of your constituency

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and where you live a. A wider people saying about the decision

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and do you think they will -- what are people saying about the

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decision and what do you think they will say? Planning needs to be

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faster and easier. A needs to be a more simple. From what I here,

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especially people in a bush Mills, they are saying they want this new

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golf resort. It is about jobs at the end of the day. It is going to

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be affecting the construction industry and long-term jobs for the

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wider community. We have to take into consideration lots of things

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that are important. We have to seem open for business. There are

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planning applications that have been sitting there for two years.

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There are some that had been there for longer than that. A that part

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of the argument, we always have to decide between the economy and the

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environment? -- is that part of the argument. You cannot do what needs

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to be done without the proper infrastructure and the proper

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building blocks and the key to that is the planning system. The

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consultation around the review noted that Arab planning system was

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so expensive -- noted that our planning system was so expensive

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and outdated. It looks like it could be 2016 before we even see

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the decentralisation to district councils where they would be able

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to have a leadership on local issues. We cannot afford to wait

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until 2016 for reform. Reform is vital if we are going to get the

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economic reform we need. -- economic system we need. It has to

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be known that the system is tied up in bureaucracy and has been for 10

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years. The experts said it took Scotland 10 years. How do we change

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some of the things that were mentioned? We need to have a

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reformed system that is fit for purpose, a planning system that is

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fit for purpose. It needs to be faster and legally proofed in order

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to protect the environment and get decisions out the door. Delay has

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been a character of the planning system and it cannot be if we are

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going to go forward. But we have to simplify it and make it more

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understandable. That is why the planning system in Scotland, where

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they have a single policy statement with an overview from the

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government and a political statement about how it fits into

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the economy, is the way I will go. That will take me two years and in

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the meantime I will radically reform the planning system on a

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case by case, policy to policy basis. But you may not even be

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there for those two years. It will be an SDLP policy. When I came in,

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I took forward the SDLP government thinking. Whoever might successor

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might be, the critical issue is, will ministers be able to use their

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power. There are ministers who do not know the difference. Here is a

:49:08.:49:18.
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look at our week in 60 seconds with The week began with David and Tom

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going head-to-head in a row that changed the political temperature

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at Stormont. I said it is cold in this part of the House! As David

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lost his job, the policing Board had other jobs to worry about, the

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ones that PSNI were offering to ex officers. The debate has to be had.

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Jobs were also to the fore when one council unveiled its �100 million

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investment package. People are frightened by it. Vince Cable

:49:55.:50:01.

dropped by to offer his support to local firms. And in Fermanagh, it

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was reported untapped gas could supply Northern Ireland for decades.

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Anything that has been when it offers cannot be bad. After years

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:50:22.:50:25.

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