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Report critical of Northern Irish planning service

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The Planning Service in Northern Ireland is too slow in processing applications and is not ‘fit for purpose’, a report has said

According to the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) the service had ‘consistently failed’ to meet targets and its new computer system had also exceeded its budget by 130 per cent – ballooning from an original estimate of £5.5 million to £12.8 million.

The PAC also said that by dragging its heels on planning decisions, the service could impact on efforts to improve the economy. It said that planning must become ‘fit for purpose’ before 2011 – when it will be devolved to local government.

Committee chairman Paul Maskey said: ‘In our review of the Planning Service, we found that it has consistently failed to meets its Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets for processing applications in a timely manner.

‘Although there has been a recent improvement, it is still not as good as customers have a right to expect. In the current economic climate more than ever, Planning Service has a pivotal role to play in developing the economy and it must focus on strategic applications which can make a real difference to social and economic wellbeing.’

However, the PAC did add that staff caseloads in the NI Planning Service were considerably above the UK average.

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