Northern Ireland Assembly
I thank the Member for his question. I confirm that, beyond the role of other Departments in respect of Armagh jail, there have been ongoing discussions between the DOE and the council. There have been ongoing pre-application discussions (PAD) with the council in respect of any application for the development of the jail as a hotel with heritage potential, as well as the possibility of newbuild retail and residential apartments as part of the overall plan. I say this cautiously, but it is anticipated that, in the next number of months, an application in that regard will be received by the local planning office.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he ensure that the planning office recognises the importance of the development to Armagh city and that any application will have a speedy resolution, within the relevant guidelines?
Yes, I would like to give those reassurances, subject to the caveat that the planning system can process planning applications if it gets all relevant information from the applicant. In this case, given that an applicant might be Armagh council, I would presume that all necessary information will be provided. It is also necessary that all other relevant Departments and consultees live up to the standards of the memorandum of understanding in respect of the time frame for responses. So, subject to the caveats that all information is given up front and all responses come back from consultees in good time, you would like to think that this application would be processed in and around the six-month period. I have to lay down some caveats, but that would be the ambition. If those hurdles are jumped, the outcome should be forthcoming. That is why I encourage any council or any other developer of a significant application to engage with the local planning office in respect of the pre-application discussion. A fully fledged pre-application discussion is the key to ensuring that, when an application is received, it is processed in a timely fashion.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra a thug sé. Can the Minister assure us that the pre-application discussions to which he referred have indeed been entered into by all parties to the regeneration of Armagh jail?
That is their purpose. I will not comment on this particular PAD, but I am concerned that some consultees do not show their full hand during pre-application discussions on the potential application with the planning system. They talk in the context of the PAD but do not give certainty on what their view might be on a future planning application. I urge the consultees to show their hand in the context of any PAD, including the one on the jail complex in Armagh, bearing in mind the importance of that building in heritage and historical terms and the importance of its regeneration. That will ensure that, when an application is received, the process can be expedited and the six-month time frame can be lived up to.