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NI Planning Service job cuts will worsen massive planning applications backlog

02 June 2010

NI Planning Service job cuts will worsen massive planning applications backlog

Responding to the announcement yesterday by Environment Minister Edwin Poots that the backlog of submitted planning applications in Northern Ireland will take six months to clear, the Royal Town Planning Institute has warned that the massive job cuts planned within the Planning Service will only worsen this situation and negatively affect Northern Ireland's economic recovery.

2500 potentially refused cases must now be reviewed following Minister Poots' approval of the new 'Planning Policy Statement 21' which gives more flexibility on rural development. However the Minister recently announced that one in three Planning Service posts will be made redundant – a total of 271 jobs, many of them planners dealing with assessing planning applications.

Whilst the RTPI welcomes the clarity now provided by the introduction of a rural policy statement for Northern Ireland, the Institute is very sceptical about the capacity of the Planning Service to carry this policy through given the scale of job cuts proposed.

Brian Sore, Northern Ireland Policy Officer of the RTPI said:

\"The RTPI has supported the introduction of a new rural planning policy in Northern Ireland, to allow controlled development in rural areas by giving planners more flexibility. However, the recent announcement by Minister Poots that almost one third of the Planning Service is to be redeployed, or made redundant, does not look in any way rational when there is already a backlog of planning applications, to which 2,500 previously refused applications will have to be added for review.

We must remember that Northern Ireland already had one of the highest workloads per planner in the UK. A promised reform of the planning system has been delayed year on year and the potential to devolve planning functions to councils, as part of the review of public administration, is on hold.

Morale in the Planning Service is already at rock bottom and the Minister's desire to drastically cut posts will mean the capacity of the service to deal with increased rural applications and backlogs that PPS21 will present is seriously compromised. This runs the risk of stifling Northern Ireland's economic recovery at birth and so we urge the Minister to think again on cutting capacity within the Planning Service at this vital time.\"