Planning Applications: Backlog

Oral Answers to Questions — The environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 4th February 2002.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 3:30 pm, 4th February 2002

2. asked the Minister of the Environment what progress has been made on reducing the backlog of planning applications.

(AQO 737/01)

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

During 2000-01, the backlog was reduced by 17%, despite a rise in application numbers of 4·5%. Regrettably, by the end of December 2001, the initial reduction in the backlog had fallen to under 5%. There were several obstacles to progress during 2001. The impact of foot-and-mouth disease delayed the consideration of a substantial number of applications, and local government elections affected consultation arrangements with councils. Planning application numbers increased by a further 6%, representing more than 1,000 applications. If that level of increase were to be sustained, it would represent a 19% increase during the period 1999-2000 to 2001-02. The Planning Service is still recruiting and training new staff to deal with the increased workload. The number of planning decisions issued by the end of December 2001 is up by 3% on last year, despite the obstacles encountered earlier in the year. That increase represents 438 applications.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I accept the validity of the reasons that the Minister outlined for the backlog not being cleared as quickly as it might have been. However, how many applications are outstanding after a period of six months, and how many are outstanding after a period of one year? Has the Minister set a new date for clearing the backlog of planning applications?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The difficulties experienced in 2001 are, of course, disappointing. I will therefore be monitoring closely the progress that can be made by the end of the year. Much also depends on the increase in planning application numbers. I assure the Member that the Department of the Environment will continue to do its best to reduce the backlog. At the end of December 2001, there were 656 planning applications in the system for the Lisburn district. Of those, 397 are regarded as backlog cases. However, that must be viewed against a 12% rise in application numbers in the Lisburn district. That increase represents 105 applications.

Photo of Gerry McHugh Gerry McHugh Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Could the backlog be made worse by the problems that some people face with planning applications for small businesses in rural areas under the Peace II and rural development programme funding?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

It is difficult to predict such issues. We take each application as it comes. We cannot be sure where applications will come from. However, I assure the Member that the process is under pressure. The economy is going so well in Northern Ireland that extra pressure is being put on us all. Sometimes we wonder if we are able to cope with all the applications. The Member raises an important issue that it is good to address. However, we cannot predict what planning applications will be made. We deal with them as they come, and each application is taken on its own merit.