A South Belfast residents’ association has hit out at the environment minister for not rearranging a meeting to discuss planning issues in the local area after he cancelled it before Christmas.

The South Belfast Residents’ Group, which represents different residents’ associations across the south of the city, had a meeting with Alex Attwood arranged for December 20 in order to discuss their concerns over local planning, including their desire for a restructured planning bill for the Assembly.

However, the day before the meeting, a representative of the Department of the Environment contacted group spokesperson Paddy McCrossan to cancel the meeting, blaming a “more pressing matter”.

To date, the minister has yet to contact the residents to rearrange the meeting.

“We had a meeting arranged for before Christmas which was cancelled on very short notice and we were told the minister had a more pressing matter to attend to. We fully understand this position.

“We would ask that another meeting be arranged at a mutually convenient time to give us the opportunity to present our concerns. We believe such a meeting would prove to be mutually beneficial.

“Separately and together, our residents’ groups have been saying for many years how things need to change here. We have the support of our politicians, not only from South Belfast, but generally throughout Northern Ireland. We simply want to have the opportunity to put our complaints and recommendations to the minister and hopefully we will get the opportunity soon.”

Paddy said the South Belfast residents wished to discuss several issues with the minister.

“The abiding concern for our residents is how planning regulations, which in theory exist to protect all, are ignored regularly when planning applications are decided.

“There is also concern over the inability of the Planning Service to refuse a retrospective application, as well as their turning of a blind eye to infringements.

“There is a need to bring unauthorised building under control but enforcement depends on good planning laws. There is a need for the minister to give the service the teeth and tools to work with.”

A DOE spokesman said: “The meeting with the South Belfast Residents’ Group was unable to go ahead and will be rescheduled at the earliest opportunity.”