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Stormont department criticised for building Derry park-and-ride which breaches planning rules

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Stormont department criticised for building Derry park-and-ride which breaches planning rules

March 25
15:00 2022
Extreme weather: Workmen removing cars from the River Faughan after flooding in 2017. Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

Extreme weather: Workmen removing cars from the River Faughan after flooding in 2017. Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye


The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has been strongly criticised for building a second park-and-ride facility on the outskirts of Londonderry in breach of planning conditions.

The River Faughan Anglers (RFA) group spoke out after Stormont’s Public Accounts (PAC) Committee said in a scathing report that it was “alarmed and appalled” at the abysmal performance of, and lack of transparency in, the planning system.

In August 2017, the DfI park-and-ride facility beside the A6 bridge over the River Faughan was damaged by flooding. Cars were swept into the river and people were rescued from the rising waters.

It was then discovered it was operating without planning permission or environmental assessments.

This was because what permission it had was temporary, and a condition required the facility’s removal and the restoration of the site by 2016, a full year before the flooding struck.

In effect, DfI was breaching its planning permission.

While the site is no longer operational, RFA said the department is still in breach because the facility was meant to be removed and the site restored by 2016.

In 2018, DfI submitted an application for a new park-and-ride facility that opened on the edge of Drumahoe in August last year.

RFA believes this facility should be rendered “unauthorised” because it is in breach of a planning condition which required it to submit additional environmental information to the planning authority and to have this agreed before any works commenced.

RFA director Dean Blackwood said the department charged with upholding the integrity and credibility of the planning system continued to demonstrate why citizens had absolutely no trust in its ability to do so.

“Expert consultees such as the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and Shared Environmental Services, whose input into environmental planning matters is essential, both declined to provide that input because of the department’s unauthorised actions, which rendered the planning condition meaningless and ineffective,” he added.

“While the department might seek to play down its unauthorised actions by claiming its dedicated environmental team was on site and did not raise any concern, that is contradicted by the fact that during construction works, RFA filmed an pollution incident on the Faughan on August 26, 2020, coming from works associated with the park-and-ride.”

Mr Blackwood also claimed it had proved difficult to get answers or an acknowledgement of mistakes.

“That it took nine Assembly questions from Rachel Woods MLA, tabled over a period of more than a year, to elicit an admission from the minister that her department did, in fact, start work in breach of its planning condition, suggests to me that the public service principles of openness and transparency hold little value in this department,” he said.

The DfI accepted it had powers and functions that enabled it to monitor the operation of planning matters and to oversee and secure the implementation of regional policy and good practices.

However, it claimed that the responsibility to do so ultimately rested with councils, and it did not want to interfere.

Compliance with any planning application is the responsibility of the relevant council, the DfI also claimed.

A spokesperson said the department did not take a decision to “intentionally commence works” before the required environmental information was agreed by the council.

“The facility has been operational since July 2021. In addition, the NIEA, along with the department’s consulting advisors and dedicated environmental team, were on site extensively during construction,” they added.

“During this period, they did not raise any concern or issues relating to either the environmental controls or working methods adopted.”

The local council confirmed it was aware of an alleged breach of conditions. A spokeswoman said: “A report of an alleged pollution incident was received. The council engaged with the DfI, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and NIEA officials on the matter.”


Source Belfast Telegraph

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