Lessons learned from Prehen woods errors

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Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan accepts that a case officer who looked into two controversial applications to build houses at Prehen woods did not deal fairly with the views of residents and objectors but says the decision to approve was not unreasonable.

An independent review of the two applications by planning expert John Davies, was published in May.

The applications both relate to plans to build four two-storey dwellings at the rear of Prehen Park and Hazelwood Avenue.

Among his findings were that: “By not giving full and clear answers to the questions raised by objectors, particularly in relation to the Officer’s report, the Department failed to handle the application in an open manner.”

Mr Durkan says lessons have been learned from the experience but reiterated his view that the approval of the application was not inappropriate.

Green MLA Steven Agnew asked Mr Durkan “given the findings of the independent Davies Report that found planners were neither open, fair, nor transparent in their dealings with the public when processing planning application A/2005/1166/F, whether he will ensure that objectors are treated fairly in the future?”

Mr Durkan replied: “I commissioned the independent Davies Report into the handling of two planning applications at Prehen Woods, Derry by the Department.

“I have accepted the findings of the report which concluded that application A/2005/1166/F was not handled in a manner that was open, fair and transparent. “This was primarily in relation to some inadequacies in the case officer’s report which did not properly evaluate all objections and did not explain fully the reasons to support the recommendation to approve the application.

“Notwithstanding these findings the report concluded that although there were some errors in the processing of the application, its planning judgement was not exercised inappropriately and its decision to approve was not unreasonable.”

Mr Durkan pointed out that the failures and inadequacies in relation to Prehen had occurred a long time ago.

He nonetheless confirmed that lessons had been learned.

“I am mindful that these inadequacies in processing occurred around 2007, some eight years ago,” said Mr Durkan.

“In the intervening period the Department has provided advice to staff on the need for comprehensive case officer reports that properly evaluate objections and give clear reasons when making a recommending on a planning application. I am satisfied that the Department has addressed many of the inadequacies in processing that were highlighted in the Davies Report.”