Committee to Co-host Discussion on Planning and Town Centres with Oireachtas Environment Committee

Synopsis: The Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for the Environment and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht will co-host an event in Enniskillen next week on the difficulties faced in planning issues, especially the impact of planning guidelines on town centres in border areas.

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 28 September 2012

Reference: ENV 05/12/13

The Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for the Environment and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht will co-host an event in Enniskillen next week on the difficulties faced in planning issues, especially the impact of planning guidelines on town centres in border areas.

Representatives from the Planning Service in Northern Ireland, the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government in the Republic of Ireland, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation, the Town Centre Managers’ Forum and Retail Excellence Ireland will also address and participate in the discussion.

MLAs, MPs, Senators and TDs from border constituencies and representatives of local authorities along the border (Cathaoirligh/Mayors and officials) will also participate in the discussion.

Dr Karise Hutchinson and Dr Donna Mac Guinness will speak at the event and will open by addressing a number of issues including the principles of good urban development.

Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for the Environment, Anna Lo MLA said: “This is an extremely important issue – not only for the local economies in border areas, but for the overall economies in both jurisdictions.  It is essential that we take a closer look at our planning system to see if there are better ways to protect our town centres.   Just last week the Committee for the Environment heard that nearly a quarter of shops in Belfast are lying vacant.  Furthermore, in Northern Ireland as a whole, the percentage of empty stores has reached 19%, meaning that almost one in five shops is empty. 

“The discussion will focus on the guidance and the legislative frameworks that have been applied to out-of-town developments in each jurisdiction and investigate what impact these factors have had on town centres. We have a range of experts to inform our discussion from business, academia and planning. I am confident that this group will generate a lot of ideas for protecting our town centres in border areas without hindering healthy growth and competition that is needed in these economically difficult times.”

Cathaoirleach of the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Ciaran Lynch, TD said: “Striking a balance between the size and location of retail developments and the need to ensure that town and village centres remain vibrant and viable has always been a tricky and delicate process. On Thursday, we will discuss these issues.

“The retail sector is the biggest single employer outside of the public sector in the Republic of Ireland. Like other businesses in recent years, it is dealing with a very difficult economic environment. It is of crucial importance to put in place sustainable retail planning strategies which not only protect existing jobs but also create further and future business and employment opportunities.

“Under the stewardship of Dr Hutchinson and Dr MacGuinness, we will share information about the regulations in both jurisdictions and how they are applied and we will discuss the issues that arise from this information sharing.  I believe that we have much to learn from each other and I believe that this discussion will allow us to consider a number of possibilities in dealing with any similar difficulties we experience.”

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