An unauthorised industrial facility in Co Tyrone is not expected to be demolished until next year – 10 years after an enforcement order was first issued.
The News Letter has looked into the case as part of a probe into the planning system, which has revealed that just a minute fraction of alleged planning offences (such as destroying a listed building) are ever prosecuted, whilst planners say it will be a long time – if at all – before they act on a minature plaza built to honour a loyalist thug.
The Co Tyrone facility is used by DMAC, which is currently in the process of expanding its business in the area.
Last year the firm was granted permission to build a new factory just to the north of the existing development near Annagher Road, on the eastern edge of Cookstown.
The go-ahead was given in April 2015 by Mid Ulster District Council.
A report prepared for councillors ahead of the decision had stated: “DMAC have advised that if this application was approved then they would relocate to the new premises, removing the unauthorised development.”
The council – which took over control of planning laws from the Department of the Environment last spring – has now said that it could be May 2017 by the time the new factory is built and the old facility is demolished.
It said that an enforcement case remains live, allowing it to take action if this does not happen.
Permission for the new factory was originally applied for in February 2011.
The company works on quarrying machinery, and the new facility – described in a planning document as being up to 40ft tall with about 60,000 sq ft of floorspace – is to be used for shot-blasting, spraying, and assembly.
Sinn Fein (which had been highly supportive of the proposal) argued it could bring a raft of new jobs to the region.
A professional planner’s report prepared ahead of last April’s meeting had set out some of the history of the site.
It stated that the planned new factory was to be near the “unauthorised sprayworks” facility which DMAC was already running.
It said that this site had “a history of refusals” dating back to 2007.
It added that an enforcement order was made, but not complied with.
The landowner, Pascal Quinn, was fined twice for non-compliance (totalling £21,000), and received a criminal conviction.
The report said that further action was halted pending the outcome of the application for the new factory.
Although another report two years earlier had recommended rejecting the application, the 2015 report concluded that approval should be given.
It noted that backing for DMAC’s plan had been received by Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (who was then MLA for Mid Ulster), Arlene Foster (then the enterprise minister), and others.
It further added that “members should also note that Mark H Durkin (sic), minister for the environment, was minded to support the application”.
The council said Mr Durkan had indicated his support “during discussions with planning staff”.
Finally, on April 13 last year, councillors gathered to make their decision.
The minutes of the meeting show that whilst two Sinn Fein councillors spoke of the economic benefits of letting the firm proceed with its new factory, UUP councillor Kenneth Reid “wanted it recorded that the whole thing stinks to high heaven and that planning was not adhered too”.
The application was granted over his objections.
When the News Letter asked Mr Durkan why he had given his backing to DMAC, despite its history of flouting rules laid down by his own department, he said: “As with many planning applications there are factors which support approval and others that would point toward refusal, and I firmly believe that soundly based planning policies form a key element of the decision-making process.
“There can be occasions where other factors need to be weighed into the mix.
“In this instance the level of economic investment and potential to create around 80 jobs would be major and a much-needed boost to the local economy not only in terms of direct employment but also in supporting other local businesses.”
Although councillors had been asked to “note” that he wanted the decision to go through, he added that ultimately the decision to approve it had been taken “independently” by the council.