05/02/2012 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


policies that are that much different from what the Ulster


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


decision by the Environment Minister.


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


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


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


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


Environmental Minister. For his part, Alex Attwood is giving


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


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


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


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


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


detrimental effect. The Castlebawn proposal is being


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


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


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


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


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


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


running dispute between the airport and the residents. The Minister


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


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


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


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


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


more than 50 major planning applications under Article 31.


These include some of the most controversial developments in


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


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


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


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


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


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


communities and no one way or the other.


The Minister was hearing the concerns of environmentalists at an


event in Stormont this week. Representatives of the construction


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


efficiency is not replicated throughout planning. The main


blockage has been the lack of individuals wanting to take


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


planning reform. The way in which Northern Ireland's


land and marine resources are managed is being overhauled, not


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


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


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


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


different planning regimes have tried to concentrate on how they


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


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


they have been working on the modernisation of the planning


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


determined in a public process, giving everyone an opportunity to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


because I have demonstrated, perhaps more than any other


minister in recent times, a very firm commitment to our


archaeological heritage at protecting the environment, and the


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


to make a planning application that is a economically significant,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


of reform. I inherited 50 or so planning applications of


significant economic development. 21st January and the end of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


very strongly that our courts now use judicial review to interrogate


public policy decisions across policing, justice and planning. But


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


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


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


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


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


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


corruption and indecisiveness in the planning service exists and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


is being unturned and there is dramatic reform similar to the


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


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


easy decision. There is a world heritage status and that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


planning applications that have been sitting there for two years.


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


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


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


to be done without the proper infrastructure and the proper


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


consultation around the review noted that Arab planning system was


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


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


the decentralisation to district councils where they would be able


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


they have a single policy statement with an overview from the


government and a political statement about how it fits into


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


the meantime I will radically reform the planning system on a


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


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


I took forward the SDLP government thinking. Whoever might successor


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


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


look at our week in 60 seconds with The week began with David and Tom


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


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


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


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


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


investment package. People are frightened by it. Vince Cable


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


was reported untapped gas could supply Northern Ireland for decades.


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


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