Castlereagh Alliance Councillor Michael Long has called for changes to the planning process to make it more accountable and better reflect public opinion. Cllr Long was speaking after the Planning Appeals Commission’s recent decision to approve a planning application for a bookmaker’s shop at 43 Rosetta Road despite massive local opposition.
Cllr Long said: “Alliance believes that the current planning process is weighted too heavily in favour of the applicant, while the public opinion is too easily ignored. Last week’s decision by the PAC was only the latest in a long line of planning decisions which have been made against the wishes of local people.
“In other cases we have seen apartments and mobile phone masts foisted upon unhappy communities who are asked for their opinions, which are then regularly disregarded. Is it any wonder that many people are disillusioned with planning decisions?
“What they find particularly frustrating is that whilst applicants can readily appeal recommendations by the Planning Service, as has happened in the bookmaker’s case, members of the public and other third party appellants have little or no redress.
“Many people believe that councils have the power to alter decisions but, as in the Rosetta case, even when councillors unanimously oppose applications, their views are often ignored either by the Planning Service or the PAC. The lack of democratic accountability is frightening.
“In light of these problems, Alliance has drawn up a number of proposals which we feel would help make the system fairer for everyone and ensure that the views of the public are not so easily ignored.
“Alliance has committed itself to giving councils the ability to initiate third-party appeals. This would mean that when elected representatives believe a decision is not in the best interests of the public, they could ask for an appeal.
“It is time for reform of the planning process before the current disillusionment with planning procedures becomes even more widespread.”