Councillor anger as row puts new planning office in jeopardy

The new Mid Ulster council will have power over planning
The new Mid Ulster council will have power over planning

The future of the new Mid Ulster planning office could be under threat after councillors at the Mid-Ulster shadow council argued over the cost of funding the new service.

Under new regulations, planning powers will be devolved from the Department of the Environment to the new super councils from April 1.

However, it is feared that unless the extra money is provided, the building of new homes and industrial sites in the Mid Ulster council area could come to a halt.

At Thursday night’s meeting of the shadow council, UUP Councillor Ken Reid complained that an extra £100,000 cost to fund the new planning office had been pushed through at the last minute.

“We totally oppose this extra burden on ratepayers”, he told the council chamber.

“It is unacceptable to have this extra cost introduced at this stage. The Department of Environment needs to step up to the mark and help sort out this situation.

“I fear that we are being railroaded down this route.”

It emerged that £760,000 has already been allocated to fund the new planning office, and that the extra money is needed to pay for office equipment.

Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Clarke claimed that the council had been assured that the equipment including computers would come from the Department of Environment, however, it appeared that this was not fit for purpose.

“We have been misled in this regard”, he said.

It is believed up to 40 staff will be relocated to the new offices by April 1 and that they will be unable to carry out their planning roles without the equipment.

The DUP’s Paul McLean said the council had to ensure the planning service had a fully functional office by April.

“We have to spend this money to get a planning service functioning”, he warned.

He added that on January 12, the shadow council will meet the Minister of the Environment and bring up the issue.

Sinn Fein Councillor Sean McPeake told the council that it could not go in reverse over the funding issue and that they would have to lobby the minister hard at the January meeting to secure more financial support.