Mid Ulster Council defends three month delay on major planning developments

Magherafelt Council offices, where planners are based
Magherafelt Council offices, where planners are based

Mid Ulster planners are taking three months longer to decide on major development applications than Department of the Environment [DOE] during the same period last year.

But the council, which took over planning powers from the government department in April, has fiercely defended the delays saying it was not given “adequate resources” to carry out the work.

A sentiment supported by councillor George Shiels, who just this month launched a scathing attack on planning staff who “forgot to bring any equipment with them” when they relocated to Magherafelt.

Figures released by DOE for the last quarter suggest there has been “large reductions in the number of planning decisions issued”.

And with Mid Ulster spending an average of 42.4 weeks on such applications, officials in the area are taking longer than the 37.6 week NI average. However, local development applications for homes and small commercial enterprises fared better, missing targets by just one week.

A spokesperson for Mid Ulster Council said it has “issued more decisions on major applications than any other council” despite having received “the highest number [334] per head of population of any of the 11 councils”.

“The council’s planning service has, therefore, performed well, particularly when considered in the wider context where the service transferred from central government without adequate resources, had to be established in a new location from scratch and with a staff complement drawn from across Northern Ireland,” they added.

“In addition, where major applications are concerned, Mid Ulster inherited a large number from DOE which had been in the system for a considerable period of time.”

DOE’s figures say Mid Ulster is one of the nine - out of eleven - councils across NI that did not meet the 15 week statutory processing target for local developments and the 30 week target for major developments in the first quarter.