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New NI planning policy statement blocks fracking

Published: Thursday, 1st October 2015

A presumption against unconventional oil and gas extraction and a retail development policy firmly rooted in the notion of “town centres first” are highlighted in Northern Ireland’s latest SPPS.

The document, the equivalent of England’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was formally published this week by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan.

The SPPS consolidates 20 separate planning policies running to 800 pages into one document. This provides the policy on key issues such as town centres and retail development, building in the countryside, creating and enhancing shared space, tourism, telecommunications and housing.

For the first time the policy rules out unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, often referred to as fracking. This would only change in the future if the Department of the Environment is satisfied that there is sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts of fracking.

Durkan said: “I believe this is a sensible and reasonable approach.”

He added: “Publishing the SPPS unlocks development potential, supports job creation and will aid economic recovery but not at the expense of our planet, environment and people.”

The minister stressed that the new SPPS would enable councils to be flexible in bringing forward planning policy tailored to local circumstances through their new Local Development Plans.

In a separate move, Durkan last week announced that proposals for a controversial multi-million pound waste recycling and energy from waste facility on the edge of Belfast had been blocked against the recommendation of officials.

Arc 21, which represents a number of councils and the Becon Consortium, had proposed a £250m waste facility in the Hightown Quarry on the Boghill Road in Newtownabbey.

The plan faced huge public opposition with residents close to the site arguing the proposed location for the facility was inappropriate.

Refusal of planning permission leaves the councils with a problem of how to deal with their waste and how to meet EU targets on recycling.

View the Strategic Planning Policy Statement

Roger Milne