Nichola Mallon in u-turn over plan to make the building of rural housing in west of Northern Ireland more difficult

A planning note that critics say would have made it more difficult to build houses in rural areas has been withdrawn.

Saturday, 16th October 2021, 11:40 pm
Updated Saturday, 16th October 2021, 11:47 pm
Nichola Mallon's infrastructure department has withdrawn a planning note that critics say would have made it more difficult to build houses in rural areas

The Department for Infrastructure had issued an advice note that attracted criticism from councils in two largely rural areas — the Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and Omagh councils.

At issue was a definition of buildings which can be considered when planning applications for farm developments are assessed.

The note proposed that a group of buildings, including a house and domestic garage, shouldn’t be included.

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Yesterday, the Department announced that the note had been withdrawn.

A spokesperson said: “Regrettably, rather than bringing certainty and clarity, as was its intention, the PAN (Planning Advice Note) seems to have created confusion and uncertainty.”

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley, a member of Stormont’s Infrastructure Committee, welcomed the decision.

“This is a welcome but necessary retreat by the Minister [Nichola Mallon] on this issue,” he said. “This note was supposed to ‘clarify’ guidance to Councils on planning in the countryside but was interpreted as simply a further restriction to rural planning policy and would have negatively impacted rural communities. Concerns came not just from across the political spectrum but from groups including the Rural Community Network.”

He added: “I am glad Nichola Mallon has taken this action, even if the problem should never have arisen in the first place.”

Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Boylan, meanwhile, have also welcomed the u-turn.

“This was the right decision as the Minister’s plan was clearly out of step with the needs for rural communities,” he said.

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