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Campaigners ‘sick of being ignored’

By Scott Jamison

Planning campaigners in South Belfast are to take a more aggressive stance, saying they are ‘sick of being ignored’ in their fight for fairer laws.

Representatives from 13 different residents’ groups gathered in Deramore Park last Thursday to be told a dramatic change of approach was needed in order to achieve their goals.

Attendees also heard calls for an immediate meeting with the planning minister Alex Attwood, who was accused of ignoring their concerns.

However, he was not the only politician to come in for criticism, as lobbying a range of MLAs and councillors had also “come to nothing”.

The event follows a previous meeting in April which saw politicians pledge their support for stop notices on developers and the right to third-party appeals.

But Paddy McCrossan, who chaired Thursday’s event, said locals had waited “too long” and seen “no benefit” from the planning system here, despite new environment minister Alex Attwood being in his position since May.

“We decided to take a step back and see what the new minister would do in terms of listening to the concerns of locals here on planning. At the end of the previous Executive, outgoing minister Edwin Poots vetoed our requested amendments to the planning bill.

“But Minister Attwood has done nothing in terms of listening to us and so we have seen no movement on this. Residents in South Belfast feel ignored and forgotten about – once the election was over most of the politicians disappeared again.

“We have been chatting to our MLAs and councillors for years about this and what do we have to show for it? While there have been attempts, there has been no progress made at all.”

Paddy said a “new way forward” had been discussed and agreed to by residents at last week’s meeting.

“We certainly need to be more aggressive in terms of what we want done and sitting about waiting for it, whether we have backing from all the parties or not, will not see it happen.

“We want some form of residents’ charter to enshrine basic steps helping us into law because currently local people are way down the pecking order and are the ones left to deal with any bad planning decisions in our respective areas.

“All this talk months ago was about councils getting planning powers and how that would be a benefit to residents. But still we are waiting for something to change and so far it hasn’t it.”

Paddy said the South Belfast groups had already put the wheels in motion in gaining a meeting with Minister Attwood.

“I have spoken to South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell to get his help in securing a meeting and I have also personally written to the minister himself. We have been told unofficially we may get a meeting before the end of the year.

“We can then tell and show the minister how bad things have become here and how we are not going to take no for an answer until we have the legislation we desire, which is not very much to ask for.”

A Planning Service spokesperson said it could not comment on any potential meetings with the minister until they had taken place.


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