HC Deb 22 February 1996 vol 272 cc482-3
4. Mr. McAvoy

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what financial resources he has allocated to fund organisations which assist community groups to make submissions on planning issues. [15021]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Malcolm Moss)

Community technical aid was established in 1980 to provide advocacy and technical support to community organisations on planning issues. In 1995–96, the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment provided £110,000 to CTA.

Mr. McAvoy:

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. As he knows, however, there is a democratic deficit within the planning process in Northern Ireland, which has been the position for some years. Bearing that in mind, surely he will agree that it is essential that there is a proper balance within the decision-making planning process so that organisations such as community technical aid are fully funded to ensure that community groups are properly trained so that they are able to take on the system.

Mr. Moss

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Department has recently had CTA's work evaluated by independent consultants. A management consultant has just finished a six-months' assignment with CTA, during which it was assisted to streamline the organisation and refocus activities in its main areas of business. I am happy to reiterate what I said to the Select Committee that examines planning issues. If the organisation feels that it needs more resources, I shall consider any approach that is made to me on that basis.

Mr. Budgen

Will my hon. Friend explain why the planning process in Northern Ireland cannot be carried out by properly elected local government? Will he give to the constitutional nationalists a sense of purpose and a proper role in the community of Ulster, and to a great extent stop their aspiration for a united Ireland, if necessary by force?

Mr. Moss

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I have some sympathy with the sentiments that lie behind it. I have visited every district council in Northern Ireland over the past year, and there is a level of frustration among elected councillors because of their lack of involvement in the planning process. However, the future reorganisation of local government in the Province is really a matter for discussion between my right hon. and hon. Friends and the elected Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies, in terms of future political development.

Mr. Dowd

If there is to be some movement away from the highly centralised development control system in Northern Ireland, will the Minister consider the scope for more local determination? To retain confidence, will he consider using his Department for appeals by both applicants and objectors?

Mr. Moss

We are considering listening to the advice of district councils as to how we can involve them more in the process of planning procedures. As for the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, there is no procedure in Great Britain, as a whole, to make appeals on the basis for which he asks. Until such changes are made here, the process in Northern Ireland must continue as it is.