‘We need more money’ says Mid Ulster’s chief

Anthony Tohill
Anthony Tohill

The recommended budget for Mid Ulster District Council for the planning powers it will take on next April is not enough, according to the Chief Executive.

At last Thursday’s Mid Ulster District Council meeting Anthony Tohill spoke at length about the contents of a resource report that detailed “in some depth” information and statistics that “will form the basis of the final budget allocations to each council”.

Raising concerns about the proposed annual grant of £1.81m to cover planning costs in Mid Ulster, he asked councillors to approve a letter to Department of the Environment (DOE) asking for clarification on various issues.

Whilst welcoming the new powers, Mr Tohill told councillors he had questions on budget, staffing levels, a lack of money for legal fees and consultant support, specialist equipment and computer programmes, the projected income levels for Planning HQ (£200k) - which it appears will keep 24 staff - and plans that have already been lodged.

He also asked for council’s endorsement to suggest Mid Ulster as a possible base for the Mineral extraction team - a matter currently under consideration.

“Planning doesn’t break even,” he said at the meeting. “[And] Subvention to Mid Ulster is much lower than other areas.”

“If it is wrong from the start then we will have to live with that for the years ahead,” he added.

In the letter Mr Tohill asks for clarification on staffing issues, as “when compared against the proposed staffing numbers it seems that councils have been allocated a broadly similar staff structure irrespective of workload” suggesting that some areas will be subsidising others.

The chamber were in agreement with Mr Tohill’s view of the report and endorsed his letter.

At the meeting councillors also approved a “Planning Study Visit” to a partner council within 2.5hrs from Cairnryan port in Scotland. The estimated cost is around £5,000 for 20 councillors and staff to visit a partner council.

In response to the Chief Executive’s view that DOE has not budgeted enough for planning, a spokesperson for the department said: “On 27 August 2014 DOE issued a paper to the local government sector setting out funding proposals to support councils in delivering their new planning responsibilities following the transfer of planning functions on 1 April 2015. Councils have been asked to provide comments to the department by early October 2014.

“The funding proposals aim to ensure councils are appropriately staffed to deal with the anticipated number of planning applications. In the case of Mid Ulster Council, it is proposed that some 36 staff, comprising qualified planners and administrative staff, will transfer to the council supported by a funding package of £1.8m which will cover all the anticipated costs to council.

“Officials from the department and from Mid Ulster Council are due to meet in coming days to discuss these proposals.”