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Northern Ireland planning 'worse then British Rail'

Angry MPs from Northern Ireland have panned the province's planning system in a heated outburst in the House of Commons.

A lack of both accountability and urgency were among a raft of criticisms levelled at Northern Ireland's planners by a posse of politicians discussing a proposed overhaul of the planning regime.

According to Democratic Unionist MP Sammy Wilson, who was heading up the group of disgruntled MPs, the planning service suffered from 'more delays than British Rail on a bad day'.

He added: 'All public representatives are finding that levels of satisfaction with the Northern Ireland Planning Service are falling.'

Wilson was particularly vehement about delays over the province's long-awaited new Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) which deals with retail planning.

He said: 'The damage that tardiness in advancing planning policies can do could not be illustrated better than by the disgraceful way in which successive ministers have handled the review of PPS 5.

'The guidelines have now been under review for five years.'

Mark Durkan, of the SDLP, also hit out at the planners, claiming the current regime is costing the province money and jobs.

He said: '[We] are right to highlight the issues and the frustrations of developers and others who are trying to advance projects that would underpin further economic development.'

The proposed planning legislataion revamp, which has now been put out for consultation, is expected to be the largest overhaul of the system in Northern Ireland for more than 30 years.

Northern Ireland Office minister Angela Smith, who agreed that the system was struggling, maintained that the changes would make the regime faster, modern and more accountable.

by Richard Waite

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