Planning office and NIEA rethink stance on Bleach Green schemes

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The Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan says the Planning Office and Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) are now rethinking decisions not to demand environmental impact assessments for a series of developments at the former flax mill and Bleach Green at Ardmore.

But the Minister denied this was evidence of “procedural inadequacies in the corporate decision making process.”

Green MLA Steven Agnew asked the Minister about an apparent U-turn in relation to three Faughan-side applications at Ardmore that were previously deemed exempt from environmental screening.

Mr Agnew put it to the Minister that the Northern Planning Division had presenting recommendations to approve the three applications at Derry City Council in December 2014, without first having undertaken Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) determinations.

But it’s now emerged that a rethink is in train.

The Green MLA asked “whether this is an indication of procedural inadequacies in the corporate decision making process, so close to the transfer of planning functions to the new council.”

Mr Durkan replied: “The Area Planning Office made a judgement on receipt of the three applications that screening under the EIA Regulations was not necessary as the sites were not wholly or partly within a sensitive area and the proposed development did not fall within Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 of the Regulations.

“I do not consider this to be an indication of procedural inadequacies in the corporate decision making process, but rather a professional opinion made on the basis of information available at that time.

“However in considering an objection to the proposals received on November 28, 2014, the Area Planning office and the NIEA are currently reconsidering this issue and the information will be made available to the public and the objector once the Department is in a position to do so.”

The River Faughan Anglers organisation has also claimed that late last month the planners had advised it that EIA and Habitats Regulations Assessment screenings had been deemed necessary for the proposed developments.

Meanwhile, Mr Agnew also asked the Minister who would be deemed liablie for any approvals once the transfer of planning powers to local councils is set in stone in April.

He asked the Minister “Whether planning approvals issued after April 1, 2015 without first having been subject to an EIA determination, where one was required by law, will become the responsibility, and liability of the new councils?”

Mr Durkan replied: “If an application has not been determined by 1 April 2015 and transfers to the appropriate council, it will be determined by that council.

“Liabilities arising from the granting of planning permission after April 1, 2015 will rest with the planning authority responsible for granting that permission i.e. the relevant Council or Department.

“The EIA Regulations both currently and after April 1, 2015 prohibit planning authorities from granting planning permission or subsequent consent for EIA development without consideration of environmental information where appropriate.”