‘Down District Farmers for Renewable Energy’(DDFFRE) finally met with Barbara Elliot the new head of planning at Rathketer House last Friday, after pressing for a meeting for over 6 months following their meeting with Planning and Environment Minster Attwood last year.
Local environmentalist and councilor Cadogan Enright who facilitated the meeting said “we were disappointed that it took so long when the Minister was willing to meet us within just a few weeks of our request. When meeting the Minister local farmers described operational failures at the Downpatrick planning office in some detail.”
DDFRRE member Edward Carson of Tyrella said, “It is clear that the planning office have been working to address some of the issues we raised with the Minister last year. New entrants to the planning system are not experiencing the same level of delays. However our members from Killard to Ballyhornan and from the Lecale Coast to Ballynahinch are still stuck in the system for anything up to 3 years whereas in theory we are supposed to have a decision in 8 weeks.”
Alan Montgomery of Killough said “Decisions for the Down area are well behind the average period of 4 to 6 months waiting for a decision. We singled out the local practice of sending requests for expensive new reports a year or 18 months into the planning application as the biggest cause of delays locally.”
Patrick Magee of Killard pointed out, “Planning advisors charge twice the price for planning applications in Down District, as our local planning office is generally regarded as ‘not fit for purpose’ and involves them in far more work”.
John Gill of Rossglass said “We believe that all renewable energy applications to be processed centrally in the regional headquarters of the planning service by properly qualified and trained personnel.”
Cllr Cadogan Enright concluded, “The meeting focused on our belief that the Down area planning office needed to address key management and organisational issues to effect behavioral change in the local planning office. We said that while we did not expect their current state of organisation to produce a decision within 8 weeks, at least they could tell us within this period if any further reports or information was likely to be required. It is also clear from some of our cases that have gone to appeal, that the local planners failed to consider important aspects of DDFFRE members cases in areas like wildlife, the environment and economics. We referenced new case law in N. Ireland on these issues and we were to brief the local planning team accordingly.’