To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on commercial and industrial development in the Banbridge area.
There is a significant amount of positive economic activity in the Banbridge area, including a major new development at Gilford Mill and one proposed at Bridgewater Park, which together could create around 3,600 jobs. At 1.6 per cent., the claimant unemployment rate is the joint lowest of all the 26 district council areas.
May I refer the Under-Secretary to the problems that are being experienced not only in Banbridge but in Northern Ireland generally as a result of slowness in decision making in the planning service? He rightly referred to two major developments in the area. I am especially worried about the business park at Cascum road, Banbridge. It is in competition to attract major developments with sites in the Republic of Ireland, which has a much more effective and quick decision-making process. Will the Under-Secretary consider that and ensure that the recent application for the extension of the business park is decided quickly so that a development that could be significant not only for Banbridge but a wider area goes ahead?
I acknowledge the work that the right hon. Gentleman has done in successfully promoting the development of the site at Cascum road, Bridgewater Park in his constituency. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend Angela Smith, who has responsibility for planning, will have heard what he said about the urgency of processing the planning application. She is committed to modernising the planning system, and we want to ensure that there is no undue delay in this case.
The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that I have regular meetings with staff at Invest Northern Ireland, which is totally committed to supporting manufacturing in the region. A range of programmes are available to support manufacturing companies, and they will continue to be made available over the coming years. As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that we have a growing manufacturing sector and a growing service sector in Northern Ireland. As the process of Northern Ireland's returning to be a normal region continues apace, I am sure that the manufacturing sector will continue to survive and thrive. It has already grown by 15 per cent. over the past five years. [Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber.