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NI planning fees to rise next month

Northern Ireland’s Planning Service has revealed planning fees will increase by nearly three per cent next month

The under-fire agency (AJ online 18.02.10), which is carrying out a review of fees and charges, said a hike in fees will come into effect from October 4.

The Planning Service hope to introduce a fees structure which will recover costs for permitted services in full.

According to the agency, this move will help to reduce the burden on tax and rate payers for underwriting planning services and help it ‘meet performance targets detailed in public service agreements’.

Further proposals for changes are expected in the autumn and will be introduced in 2011.

Earlier this year the agency was lambasted by the Northern Irish Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which said the service had ‘consistently failed’ to meet targets, was not ‘fit for purpose’ and that by dragging its heels on decisions ‘could impact on efforts to improve the economy’.

The PAC also hit out at the introduction of the agency’s new computer system which had exceeded its budget by 130 per cent – ballooning from an original estimate of £5.5 million to £12.8 million.


Virtual planning guide dropped

A £14,000 virtual guide to planning rules has been scrapped after a lack of interest from the public, it emerged today.

A version of the Government planning portal’s ‘interactive house’ tool - which gives users information about domestic planning permission - was set up on the virtual 3D world Second Life in 2008.

It was a move intended to ‘engage a younger audience in planning matters’, communities and local government minister Bob Neill said, but failed to meet its objective.

‘Although customer feedback was positive, take-up was insufficient to warrant its continuation and the project was cancelled earlier this year,’ Neill said in a written Commons answer to Tory Andrew Griffiths (Burton).

“The total cost to the planning portal was £14,000.”

Outside the Commons, Mr Neill said: “This was another pointless gimmick dreamt up by Labour ministers that wasted taxpayers’ money and nobody wanted.

‘What people really want is real power over planning decisions which is what they will get through our localism bill.’

Griffiths added: ‘I’m not sure about a virtual world, I think Labour ministers were living on a different planet when they authorised this expenditure.

‘It is a prime example of pointless nonsense that Gordon Brown’s government were wasting taxpayers’ money on, and scrapping it is essential if we are going to tackle Labour’s legacy of debt.’


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