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Strategic Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1999

9.56 p.m.

Lord Dubs rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the Strategic Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 is to require the new Department for Regional Development to formulate a regional development strategy for the long-term development of Northern Ireland and co-ordinate its implementation.

Perhaps I may explain the context in which the order is being proposed. It is a part of the legislative package required to implement the new departmental arrangements agreed in the statement issued on 18th December 1998 by the First and Deputy First Minister designate for Northern Ireland. The statement set out proposals for the re-structuring of Northern Ireland departments and the functions for which each department would be responsible. It was agreed that the number of departments in the new Northern Ireland Administration would increase from six to 10 and that existing responsibilities should be redistributed among these 10 departments.

Under the new arrangements, strategic planning is to become the responsibility of the new Department for Regional Development, and planning control the responsibility of the new Department for the Environment.

I explained that the order requires the Department for Regional Development to formulate a regional development strategy for Northern Ireland. I should also explain that much work has already been done in this regard by the existing Department for the Environment.

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In December 1998, it published for consultation a draft of a regional strategy which offered a framework for developing the region over the next 25 years. Responsibility for completing this exercise will now transfer to the Department for Regional Development.

Perhaps I may stress to the House that this is a project which I find very exciting. Indeed, it is one about which I am particularly enthusiastic. Therefore, I hope that the new Assembly will share the sense of enthusiasm I have towards this overall project. There are not many such examples of looking ahead involving local people in that process while covering a whole range of areas, of lifestyle, work, leisure, and so on, than one which looks ahead for 25 years. I believe it to be a remarkable undertaking. It has attracted a great deal of support across the whole of Northern Ireland.

The Government regard this exercise as essential for the future development of Northern Ireland. In the Belfast agreement of 10th April 1998, they gave a commitment to make rapid progress with a regional strategy so that it may be considered in due course by the Assembly. The Government saw the strategy as a means of tackling the problems of a divided society and social cohesion in urban, rural and border areas, protecting and enhancing the environment, producing new approaches to transport issues, strengthening the physical infrastructure of the region, developing the advantages and resources of rural areas, and rejuvenating major urban areas.

The order would also permit the Department for Regional Development to formulate sub-regional strategies as part of, or flowing from, the regional strategy.

A number of the provisions of the order are similar to those in the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 and we considered simply transferring these to the Department for Regional Development under the Transfer of Functions Order--a piece of subordinate legislation which redistributes the functions of the old departments. However, legal advice indicated that this could not be done as the new Department for the Environment will also need those provisions to carry out its planning control functions. An order was therefore necessary.

These provisions have also been strengthened through the introduction of Article 4, which places a statutory requirement on the Department for Regional Development to provide policy guidance and advice on the regional strategy and its implementation, to co-ordinate its implementation, and Article 5, which places a statutory requirement on other Northern Ireland and UK departments to have regard to the regional strategy when exercising any functions in relation to development in Northern Ireland.

I shall now summarise the provisions in the order. Articles 1 and 2 are introductory and deal with title, commencement and interpretation of the order. Article 1 provides that the order shall come into operation on the same day as Article 3(1) of the Departments (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 which relates to the creation of new departments including the

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Department for Regional Development. This would be a date appointed by the Secretary of State and would precede the day on which powers are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly by the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Article 2 provides that the order should be construed as one with the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 for the purpose of interpreting meanings and definitions.

Article 3 requires the Department for Regional Development to formulate, in consultation with other NI departments, a regional development strategy for the long-term development of Northern Ireland. It also provides a saving clause to safeguard work already undertaken in this regard by the existing Department for the Environment. This article also empowers the Department for Regional Development to formulate sub-regional strategies as part of, or flowing from, the regional strategy.

Article 4 requires the department to provide policy guidance and advice in relation to the strategy and its implementation, and to co-ordinate its implementation. Article 5 requires all Northern Ireland and UK departments to have regard to the strategy when exercising any function in relation to development in Northern Ireland. Article 6 provides the department with the power to undertake surveys or studies for the purpose of exercising any of its functions under the order; it permits the department to consult with any persons it thinks fit for the purpose of exercising any of its functions under the order; and it also allows the department where it considers it appropriate to cause a public local inquiry to be held.

Article 7 provides the Minister for Regional Development with the power to appoint advisory bodies or committees to assist the department in the exercise of its functions under the order. Article 8 gives effect to the schedule and provides for consequential amendments.

The schedule to the order provides for consequential amendments to the Property (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 and the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991.

This order permits work to continue on the completion of a regional development strategy for Northern Ireland--a strategy which the Government believe will enhance the lives and prosperity of the people of Northern Ireland. It is also important to give full effect to the new arrangements for devolved government in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd February be approved.--(Lord Dubs.)

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the order. I am reassured that the departments will look a long way ahead. The Minister will be relieved to hear that I do not propose to dissect the order, mainly because I am not able to. It will be interesting to see how it works, having two departments involved in the same business. Of course I know I shall have to be careful in that regard as I have just expressed

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that I am content to having two departments involved in the operation and regulation of the water industry. I am entirely content with the order.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I shall follow the line taken by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and speak briefly at this stage. One accepts that redesigning and regrouping government departments is bound to cause a degree of confusion, at least in the short term. But can one assume that this order--providing, as it does, for strategic planning and regional planning--might have a bearing on the matter I mentioned during our debate on the appropriation order in regard to Belfast international airport? Is it possible to ensure that such a major project will not be delayed by any confusion that might be caused in the short term by the transfer of these powers? While I take the point made by the Minister with regard to factory development--which is part of this project--I trust that any difficulties and obstacles can be overcome.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, in answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, clearly these changes to the planning responsibilities are designed for when devolution has occurred. I see no reason why there should be any delay in dealing with planning applications of the kind described by the noble Lord at Aldergrove airport. I see no reason why there should be any delay when the Assembly takes over. We have all the procedures in place and the departmental structures will have been rearranged to comply with the new arrangements for 10 departments. I do not believe that there will be any delay. I trust that the Assembly will move forward quickly in making decisions of the kind we are talking about. At the moment we are in discussion with the developers about the difficulty which I described and to which the noble Lord referred. I hope those difficulties can be resolved quickly. I share the noble Lord's concern that major planning applications which have a bearing on employment prospects are important and offer an economic reward if they fit in with the planning system.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


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