Objector to Enniskillen retail application revealed

THE Department for Infrastructure has provided further information around the decision to issue a ‘holding direction’ to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council after the Planning Committee approved development of Lakelands Retail Park in Enniskillen.
Having previously released some details, other enquires sent to the departmental press officer were deemed to be Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
It has now been established such a move was incorrect as Angus Kerr, Chief Planner and Director of Regional Planning, stated: “The information requested falls under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, as opposed to [a] FOI.
“Section 39 of the Act specifically excludes from consideration requests for what is deemed to be environmental information … and gives rights of public access to environmental information held by public authorities.”
The Lakelands Retail Park application passed by a whisker after an equal division for and against, but the casting vote of Chair, Councillor Glen Campbell, tipped the scales.
There was notably strong opposition by the Unionist groupings on the Planning Committee, while Sinn Fein and an Independent member were very much in favour.
Reaction to the news was mixed, with some delighted to hear the former Unipork factory site would be developed, while others were furious, pointing to the decimation of existing businesses and the uniqueness of the town centre area.
But the Planning Committee’s role and decision has been thrown into doubt, and having called a halt, the Department may have the final say.
A spokesperson said, “A ‘holding’ direction was issued on June 24 to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council under the provisions of Article 17 of Planning Order (NI) 2015.
“The purpose of this is to allow the Department time to consider whether or not the proposed Lakelands Retail Park development in Enniskillen raises issues that require the application to be referred [called in] to it for further consideration and determination.”
Section 29 of the Planning Act (NI) 2011 gives the Department power to ‘call in’ applications.
While discretionary, it should be used by exception, where applications may have potential regional/sub-regional impacts, as the Department recognises the role of councils in decision-making on developments.
In the event of a call in, the Department becomes the decision maker.
If it is concluded the application should not be called in, the council will be informed and can proceed to process the application accordingly.
At present, jurisdiction remains with the Council, and a decision around the call in will be taken as soon as possible.
Other answers were not forthcoming, in particular who brought the issue to the Department’s attention and why.
That information has now been released and shows a Belfast law firm was instructed by one of the objectors, Station Green Enniskillen Limited.
The letter states, “Following the approval of the application by the Planning Committee contrary to the clear and substantive recommendation for refusal of the Planning Department, we consider that it is necessary for the application to be referred to the Department for Infrastructure.
“The Planning Direction 2017 requires that planning applications are referred to the Department where a major development application which would significantly prejudice the implementation of the local development plan’s objectives and policies.”
It continued: “The approval is clearly contrary … given the significant adverse impact on the vitality and viability of Enniskillen town centre.
“The proposal is also contrary … to the extant Fermanagh Area Plan 2007, as recognised in the Planning Report for the proposal.”
The letter concludes, “For the above reasons referral under the 2017 Direction is mandatory and given the significance of the proposal we consider that the Department must call-in the application for determination.
“Accordingly, the Council cannot issue a final decision notice on the proposal until this procedure has been followed.”
The action came after a number of objectors held a meeting voicing concerns over the decision to grant the application for Lakelands Retail.
It was attended by a number of business persons and councillors from the Enniskillen area.
As yet, the issue remain with the Department and there is no indication when a decision either way can be expected.

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