PLACE, the Architecture Centre advocating design quality in the built environment, has written to all members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to warn that staff cuts in the Planning Service will lead to poor planning decisions that will irreversibly affect the landscape of Northern Ireland.
PLACE Chairperson Professor Bill Morrison said he has major concerns at news that the Planning Service is to redeploy as many as 269 staff, and warned that the Department of the Environment must think carefully about how it implements any staff redeployment.
“An inadequate planning resource means putting up with a shoddy environment. We must make sure the cuts are not concentrated on the professionals who deal with planning applications,” Professor Morrison, the former Head of Planning for Belfast, said.
He added, “PLACE is Northern Ireland’s Architecture Centre, and we are here to promote quality in the built environment. The Development Control teams and Design Unit of Planning Service are at the frontline of ensuring a quality built environment and they have been doing a good job. It is crucial that they retain the capability to do this.
“We are concerned that no distinction has been drawn between professional qualified planners and other staff. This is particularly alarming in light of the November 2009 NI Audit Office report, ‘The Performance of the Planning Service’, which shows that staff already have individual caseloads far higher than any other UK nation.
“Planning Service has three groupings of staff: the professional team dealing with planning applications; another professional team dealing with development plan preparation and a substantial administrative back-up, recently inflated in anticipation of the transfer to local councils under RPA. It would be a big mistake to target the development control staff for cuts simply because of an accounting system that seeks to fund one particular function from the income from planning applications,” Professor Morrison said.
Architect and PLACE Director Michael Hegarty added: “This move could have a devastating effect on the economic recovery of Northern Ireland. Reducing qualified staff will only delay planning applications and delay any recovery in construction. Swifter planning has often been cited as an important factor in attracting inward investment. Now, surely, is not the time to add further barriers to firms wanting to locate here. The Northern Ireland Government Policy for Architecture & The Built Environment is established to improve standards of design in the built environment. Qualified people are needed to deliver the policy and cutting key qualified staff is not the way forward.”