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Lack of functioning Stormont Executive leading to impossible decisions

Joanna Drennan is RTPI Policy Officer Northern Ireland.

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) in Northern Ireland is responsible for the maintenance, development and planning of critical infrastructure across water, transport, and planning. The DfI is currently consulting on the potential equality implications of their budget allocation, including the following (seemingly impossible) decisions in response to budgetary constraints in the context of not having a functioning Executive at Stormont:

  • Reduction of essential road maintenance to emergency response only;
  • Streetlights are switched off;
  • Reduction to Concessionary Fares Scheme;
  • Community transport not funded beyond 30 June; and
  • Ceasing funding for Community Places (the closest thing Northern Ireland has to a Planning Aid service).

Many, if not all, of these needs are vital, and reducing or removing funding would have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable groups. For instance, ceasing or reducing funding for Community Places would likely mean an end to the only free independent planning advice service available in Northern Ireland, having a disproportionate impact on marginalised individuals and their ability to participate in the planning system, navigating what are often complex and technical planning processes.

Significantly reducing/ceasing funding for community transport would have a disproportionate impact on older people, people with disabilities, and parents/guardians/carers, who rely on community transport to access essential goods and services which they would not be able to otherwise due to their lack of access to private transport and other barriers such as neurodiverse needs or mobility difficulties.

Reduction or cessation of wastewater treatment could have a hugely detrimental impact on our natural environment, contaminating and destroying natural habitats, harming ecosystems, and causing dangers to public health.

Evidence shows that larger settlements, with higher densities and mixed land use, can increase levels of self-containment, bring efficiencies with infrastructure such as water and road infrastructure provision, reduce the need to travel long distances to access amenities such as schools and shops, enable more cost-effective public transport provision (which reduces the need to travel by car and the concomitant emissions), and can encourage continued physical activity, economic participation and social interaction for an ageing population. Therefore, cost savings, physical wellbeing, and climate resilience, can all be impacted by the settlement patterns which are approved through planning. The planning system has a vital role to play in the economic and sustainable development of Northern Ireland.

RTPI NI has urged DfI to consider an approach to budget setting which encourages long term sustainable behaviours and works towards the aims of the Climate Act 2022, albeit we appreciate DfI faces severe budgetary constraints and difficult decision making. Consideration should be given to the more strategic view, of the location of development and the infrastructure that is required to support it.

The consultation can be found here.

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