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5th January 2005
Minutes of the Special Meeting of Council held in the Council Chamber, Council Offices, 47 Derry Road, Strabane on Wednesday 5 January 2005 at 7.30 p.m..
Present:- In the Chair: Councillor J McNulty
Other Members: Councillors I Barr, A Bresland, J Emery, D Hussey, C McGill, B McMahon, E McMenamin
Total = 8
In Attendance: Chief Building Control Officer, Administrative Assistant, Dr. Chris Boomer, Planning Service
Apologies: Councillors A Bell, T Kerrigan, T McBride, E McGarvey
Tsunami Disaster, South East Asia
Suspension of Standing Orders
A suspension of Standing Orders was agreed to discuss the recent disaster in South East Asia.
Members expressed their condolences at the loss of life in the recent disaster together with the many who had been injured and left homeless.
Councillor Barr noted that the advice in the past had been that unless such disasters had a direct impact with the district area, Council were statutorily debarred from making a donation to disaster appeals. However, he felt that given the scale and uniqueness of the disaster Council would be justified in seeking approval from the Department of Finance & Personnel to remove the embargo on Council in order to facilitate making a financial donation.
Following a discussion and on the proposal of Councillor Barr, seconded by the Chairman it was agreed to donate £10,000 to the appeal, that being the emergency budget held by Council for a by-election. It was also agreed to seek the support of the other 25 Councils through NILGA and to encourage community groups, churches, sports clubs, schools etc. to hold events to raise money for the appeal. It was felt that the Community Support/Relations Department could liaise with groups and channel and disseminate relevant information. It was further agreed to have books of condolences at the usual Council locations in a format that could be replicated for each country that had been affected by the disaster.
Councillor McGill joined the meeting at this point.
Get Well Wishes
Councillor McMenamin reported that Councillor Bell was in hospital following a recent illness but that it was hoped that she would be home by the end of the week. A get well card was circulated at the meeting for Members to sign.
The Chairman wished all Members and staff a happy New Year, which he hoped would be fruitful.
West Tyrone Area Plan 2019
The Chairman welcomed Dr. Chris Boomer to the meeting to present his report “Towards a Planning Strategy for West Tyrone” a copy of which had been previously circulated for Members’ attention.
Dr. Boomer thanked Members for the opportunity of further discussion on the West Tyrone Area Plan (WTAP). He said that the paper demonstrated that planning issues were becoming very complicated. He outlined the purpose of the document, which was to identify the general aims and objectives for the planned strategy in order to prepare an Issues Paper for public consultation. He confirmed his intention of facilitating discussion with Council.
He said that the process used was not only a ‘top down’ approach examining international, national and regional planning policy but also a ‘bottom up’ approach looking broadly at West Tyrone and the roles of town, villages, hamlets and countryside in delivering the strategy. He proposed future visits to Council in March to discuss the results of the preliminary public consultation and again in May to consider the general local issues and the proposed housing allocation between settlements.
He outlined the key theme of the international and national planning policy context which was sustainable development defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. He added that it was important to stimulate economic growth whilst protecting the environment. He also referred to social progress and the maintenance of growth and employment and the impact of social inclusion within sustainable development.
He referred to reducing the need to travel by promoting more sustainable forms of transport and to a more efficient use of existing land including building up and benefiting from existing concentrations of town centre uses.
Dr. Boomer outlined the impact of climate change on development with predictions of warmer wetter winters and drier summers having an impact on growing seasons. He said that such changes could result in an unstable environment. He further referred to the use of fossil fuels and reported that the UK had 1% of the world’s population yet used approximately 3% of fuels, which he felt clarified the request for Planners to reduce the need to travel.
He reported on environmental protection and biodiversity issues and outlined European directives, which covered various designated areas. He said that the Government had requested pro-active measures in planning for biodiversity and Environmental Impact Assessments were now required by way of undertaking an appraisal to make an informed choice on planning issues which would have minimal environmental impact.
Regional Development Strategy
Dr. Boomer outlined the aims of the Regional Development Strategy (RDS), which sought to strengthen economic and social cohesion by encouraging cross border liaison. He referred to the framework in identifying hubs, corridors and gateways and noted that Strabane was a key gateway to Donegal with a corridor from Derry to Dublin. He felt that the enhancement of these issues was important. He recognised that there were problems in rural areas in terms of transport etc. and felt that the key point was to encourage diversification. He noted that the RDS identified houses for the district and the need to make better use of existing land. He added that it also highlighted the need for 100,000 new jobs within Northern Ireland and felt that this issue required further investigation in order to clarify the proportion required for West Tyrone but he felt that it suggested that land had to be provided to facilitate around 5,000 new jobs.
Councillor Hussey joined the meeting at this point.
Dr. Boomer referred to the table of various tests and evaluation framework as outlined in the report, which set a target to provide 60% of housing within existing urban area of towns with populations of over 5,000. The framework covered areas such as: infrastructure and space capacity; environmental issues; integrating land use and public transport; housing and jobs balance; maintaining urban and rural characters and social equality.
Councillor Hussey queried the right for people who wanted to live on their own within the rural district area.
Dr. Boomer said that this would still be possible and that the key factor was sustainability. He added that it was not the purpose of the plan to rewrite the policy.
He continued the presentation by referring to the potential of developing other energy sources with issues such as solar, thermal and water sources being open for debate. He felt that the plan should consider how far planning should be used to facilitate these measures.
Planning Policy Statements
Dr. Boomer said that he had provided summaries of all the Planning Policy Statements (PPS) for Members’ information and clarity. He referred specifically to the precautionary principle contained within PPS1 in relation to the protection of the environment where there were significant risks of damage. He also referred to PPS4, which facilitated land to be zoned within main towns for industrial development. He noted the steps undertaken in regenerating Strabane town centre and felt that more improvements were needed with regard to derelict and semi derelict land. He also noted the need to encourage people to live within town centres.
Dr. Boomer referred to the tables contained within the report outlining comparative figures for the Omagh and Strabane district areas and the average percentages for Northern Ireland in relation to demographic information, claimant counts, economic activity, health and care and educational grades. He noted that there was a high proportion of population who were young, but not economically active. He also noted that the Strabane district was underachieving on educational attainment compared to the national average. He said that comparisons of West Tyrone with the rest of Northern Ireland showed that it was one of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and income. He acknowledged that any plan must not stifle development.
Aims, Objectives and Strategy of the Plan
Dr. Boomer referred to the list of aims and objectives of the plan as contained in the report and defined the main aim as follows: “to provide a planning framework which facilitates future growth and development within West Tyrone whilst protecting and, where appropriate, enhancing the natural and man made environment and ensuring that development is both sustainable and of a high quality.” He said that the strategy for achieving the aims and objectives was also very important and must be attained whilst maintaining and promoting good community relations with all sections of the community.
He also outlined the general issues with regard to housing, industry and business, retailing, leisure and tourism, public services, transportation and utilities.
Dr. Boomer noted that the dispersal of rural communities may be identified in the review of the Rural Strategy which he felt could have a serious role to play within the WTAP.
He said that the paper he had formulated was not intended to provide all the answers but to identify the right questions, which the public should be asked.
The Chairman thanked Dr. Boomer for the presentation of his report and the comprehensive breakdowns contained within it. He invited comments and questions from Members.
Councillor McGill thanked Dr. Boomer for the presentation. She remarked that Dr. Boomer’s comment about reducing the need to travel would not be easy within the Glenelly area and she queried how such a reduction would be reconciled given that schools and hospitals were being moved to other areas. She felt that the issue of dispersal of rural communities was an interesting point whereby there could be more flexibility leading to important regeneration within rural communities. She queried if figures regarding an increase in housing allocation were available. She queried the reference to restoration of vernacular rural buildings and reference made to opportunities within North West Passage. She noted that there were a number of typographical errors in the names of towns, villages, hamlets listed on the final page of the report.
Dr. Boomer said that the announcement concerning housing allocations was still awaited but an increase in allocations was anticipated. He believed that the dispersal of rural communities could be used as a vehicle to encourage rural development. He referred to the diversification regarding vernacular buildings and clarified that the RDS was encouraging the reuse of long established buildings rather than demolition. He clarified the reference to North West Passage and encouraging cross border communication and economic networks from Derry to Letterkenny to Dublin.
Councillor McMenamin thanked Dr. Boomer for the very valuable informative paper. He felt that the issue regarding the reduction of travel could be linked with the decentralisation programme and the bringing of more jobs to the area rather than having to travel to places such as Belfast. He felt that the Review of Public Administration (RPA) could have an impact on this issue. He agreed that the deprivation levels in the area was severe with a lack of infrastructure, finance etc. He referred to Targeting Social Need (TSN) and felt further consideration was required in this regard.
Dr. Boomer said that the planning service as a function was also under consideration within the RPA. He said that the timeframe of the WTAP would depend more on the politicians of Northern Ireland rather than the Civil Servants.
Councillor Bresland welcomed Dr. Boomer and said that the presentation had been very interesting. He said that it was currently very difficult to locate a good rural site for development and said that many people wanted to live in rural areas where they and their families had lived for many years. He felt that there was scope to increase houses within current rural hamlets.
Dr. Boomer said that the WTAP was not going to simplify the situation of rural housing. He noted that Strabane District Council had been very vocal to date regarding zoning land as green belt.
Councillor Hussey apologised for missing the earlier part of the presentation. He also apologised to the Chairman for interrupting the presentation with a question earlier in the meeting.
Councillor Hussey noted that Dr. Boomer’s remit extended to other plans other than the WTAP. He also noted that Dr. Boomer did not reside within the West Tyrone area. He clarified that this was not a personal criticism but that he, like other residents cared passionately about the Strabane district area in which they lived. He said that both Omagh and Strabane were two-thirds rural areas incorporating farming communities who often required planning permission in order for their farms to survive which he defined as economic survival. He quoted Dr. Boomer’s comment “change what we need to change” which he felt suggested that there was already a draft plan in place. He queried the reference to hubs and noted that the term would refer to the towns of Omagh and Strabane and clarified that both were district areas of which two-thirds were rural. He queried the definitions of a hamlet, village and town. He agreed that it was important to have a good road network and queried the logic of the Planning Service to allow a major retail park to be built on the Omagh through pass, which had created a traffic bottleneck. He referred to details in the report relating to waste management but said that there had been no reference to any liaison with the relevant working groups on this issue.
Dr. Boomer clarified that once the Plan had been completed for Dungannon concentrated efforts would be given to the WTAP before commencing work on the plan for Fermanagh. He said that the rural policy would not change but that there was a possibility of changing designations within the rural area. He said that they were consulting with all the relevant bodies on the waste management issue. He clarified that the role of the Planners was to ensure that they facilitated land for development and he acknowledged that there was a clear disparity of industrial land between the Omagh and Strabane areas. He noted that the ‘draft’ plan was in fact the old Strabane Area Plan, which was a good basis to start from but was open to changes. He said that he could provide written guidance on definitions for hamlets, villages and towns.
He said that the paper he had presented to Council for discussion at the meeting was a genuine attempt to involve the Council early on in the process. He felt that it was important to formulate the right questions for the public and he said that Members were free to suggest changes or additions to the paper.
Councillor Emery noted that waste management was currently one of the greatest problems faced by Councils and queried if sites would be available for the management of waste when the WTAP was finalised. He noted that an increase in housing would have the knock on effect of an increase in waste and he queried proposals for incineration.
Dr. Boomer said that this was the reason for highlighting the issue, as further consideration was necessary. He acknowledged that the WTAP could not be undertaken without considering such an important issue.
The Chairman queried the responsibility of contractors and developers to provide play facilities within new housing developments.
Dr. Boomer confirmed that the plan would state the requirements in this regard. He said that the Planning Service could work with Council where there was a lack of provision and access to open space.
In response to a query from the Chairman, Dr. Boomer said that the public consultation would involve undertaking statutory requirements including a notice in the press giving members of the public 14 weeks to make submissions. He added that an issues paper would be published and he was keen to use Council, Members and community groups to reach a wider audience. He said that he would like to organise an event to launch the issues paper in liaison with Council and invite relevant, beneficial parties. He added that he was happy to meet with community groups and to get as many people involved in the process as was possible.
Councillor Barr welcomed Dr. Boomer back to Council. He said it was enlightening to read and hear the proposals to date. He referred to the history of development at Laurel Drive, Strabane and understood that there had been an indication from the Planning Service that no further development would be possible given the proximity to the River Mourne. However, he said that there were concerns from residents of the area that further housing developments would be permitted, as land was still available. He said he was unclear if the land had been zoned as a green area.
Dr. Boomer clarified that the WTAP would be the mechanism for determining policy for the future and could not be undertaken on an ad hoc basis. He felt that the Planning Service had to be realistic and could not zone everything as open space. He confirmed that if the land which Councillor Barr referred to was white land, an application could be submitted and would be considered on its merits.
Dr. Boomer concluded by welcoming written submissions from Members if it was felt appropriate.
The Chairman thanked Dr. Boomer for the report and presentation.
Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 – Consultation Document
Councillor Barr noted the deadline of 10 January 2005 and felt that Members’ comments should be submitted to the Chief Executive at the earliest opportunity.
In response to a query from Councillor Hussey, the Chief Building Control Officer (CBCO) confirmed that the consultation document had been previously circulated to Members but had not been discussed. It had been decided to re-circulate the document.
Councillor Barr felt that consideration should be given to discussing important consultation documents with short deadlines at the Special Meeting of Council for presentations even if it meant that one presentation had to be cancelled.
The CBCO clarified that Officers did consider many consultation documents, which are brought forward to Council so that Members’ views can be incorporated in any response. He added that time constraints on deadlines were often one of the main difficulties for Officers. He felt that perhaps a synopsis of consultation documents would be beneficial for Members.
Any Other Business
The CBCO advised Members that the Head of Culture, Arts and Leisure had requested Council approval to accept the letter of offer for £434,000 from the Department of Social Development for the Arts Centre. On the proposal of Councillor Barr, seconded by Councillor McMahon this was agreed.
Sperrin Lakeland – South East Asia Disaster
A letter from Sperrin Lakeland had been tabled for Members’ attention regarding Council’s views on how best to respond to the disaster. It was felt that the discussion earlier in the meeting had dealt with the issue.
Waste Management Meetings
The CBCO referred to details re-circulated by the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) concerning two meetings as follows for which he required the names of the Members who would be attending:
North West Regional Waste Management Committee - 12 January, Guildhall, Derry 10am – 1pm.
It was agreed that Councillors Bresland, Hussey, McGill and McNulty would attend the meeting. It was also felt that Councillor Donnell, who was not in attendance may also wish to attend.
‘Shaping the Strategy’ Seminar - Waste Management Strategy 2005-2020 - 21 January, Galgorm Manor, Ballymena 9.30am – 1.15pm.
It was noted that Councillor Bresland had previously indicated his wish to attend the seminar. Councillor Hussey said he would respond the following day.
Planning Applications prior to 1973
Councillor McGill queried if Council approved planning applications prior to 1973 and wondered if applications which were approved at that time but not implemented were still valid approvals. She also queried where such information could be accessed or researched.
The CBCO said that the Urban and Rural Councils would have been involved in planning applications prior to the amalgamation of the Councils. In his opinion, he felt that it would be unlikely that documentation on specific applications would be available within the Council offices and added that such information may be held in the Public Records Office in Belfast. He also believed that approvals would not be valid after a 5 year lapse.
The meeting concluded at 9.30 p.m.
DATED this 5th day of JANUARY 2005
Chief Building Control Officer
DATED this 8th day of FEBRUARY 2005
Chairman of the Council