All posts by Tara McLaughlin

Planning for the future

 

just makes sense

“The entire process has been so stressful. If we knew what was involved we would never have started it.” These are the words of Julie and David McGowan. They have been fighting to obtain planning permission for an extension to their family home in North Down for almost a year.

Under the reform of public administration, the Department of Environment transferred powers to 11 new super councils in Northern Ireland on the 1st April this year. These replaced 26 existing councils in Northern Ireland and as part of their remit, the super councils inherited new planning powers, previously held by the department of environment.

But according to the McGowan family, the transition has been far from smooth.

Julie said: “When our third child came along we were faced with the decision of either upsizing or extending our family home. We have always been really happy where we are and didn’t want the hassle of moving so we settled on an extension. We had no idea what was in store and the time we have spent on the planning process would have been better spent on searching for a bigger home.

“The problem seems to be with the transfer to the new super-councils. Where before planning powers lay with the DOE now you have to apply to your local council. When we researched the planning application process we were advised to wait until the new super councils came into force as it would be “more straightforward.”

Julie added: “It has been anything but.”

According to the NI Direct, government website the reform of public administration stipulates that the changes to planning allows local councils to shape how their areas grow and develop. It also states that this is the most significant change to the planning system in more than 40 years but claims that the responsibility is shared by the department of the environment and the local councils. Herein lies the confusion seemingly.

Following the advice they had received, Julie and David approached their local planning officer for Ards and North Down as instructed after the 1st April this year. As far as they were concerned this was the first point of call in order to get their planning application underway. They were told that although the transfer of planning powers to local councils had officially taken place, it wasn’t fully implemented yet and their application should be referred to the DOE. When contacted, the DOE responded to the McGowan’s application by stating that planning powers have been devolved to local councils since the 1st of April this year and therefore their application should be submitted to their local council.

So who is responsible for local planning and where is the transparency for the public?

Under the reform of public administration in Northern Ireland, the decision to move planning powers from the DOE to local councils was “designed to make planning a speedier, simpler and more streamlined process. They will make it easier for people to access and take part in the planning process and help deliver faster and more predictable decisions.”

The McGowan family beg to differ.

Public protocol for submitting a planning application appears to be quite straightforward. According to the website, local councils are now responsible for “the vast majority of planning applications.” All applications are seemingly; “categorised as local, major and regionally significant, with councils responsible for determining all local and major applications. Each council has established a planning committee to consider and decide these applications, however not all applications will come before the planning committee for decision.

The council will publish a Scheme of Delegation that will set out which applications will be dealt with by the planning committee and which will be delegated to officers. The applications that are likely to come before the committee for decision may include large developments, contentious applications and those that receive a number of objections.”

Having read this, Julie approached her local council planning officer again, quoting the appropriate instructions: “I read all of the information carefully and it seemed clear to me that our application would be categorised as a local application and therefore it would be delegated to officers.

“But we have since been told that the scheme of delegation is yet to go ahead but our application is likely to have to go before the planning committee and this may take up to a year. As far as we can understand, only contentious, large or applications with objections need to go before the committee. All we want is an extra bedroom above our garage and a garage conversion. It’s hardly contentious.”

When contacted, the planning officer for the McGowan’s local council Ards and North Down said she: “could not comment on individual applications but the public need to be patient. The transfer of planning powers is an ongoing process but one that will ensure a simpler and speedier application process in the long run.”

A spokesperson for the DOE said: “The department of the environment can confirm that planning powers for local planning applications have now been fully transferred to local councils and the process is now complete. Anyone with planning queries should contact their council planning office.”

The McGowan family are not satisfied with these statements and say: “This is simply not good enough. We undertook the idea of extending our house on the pretence that getting planning permission would be much more straightforward with the new super councils. I know it was a long, drawn-out process in the past. The DOE and our local council are just passing the buck with this now. Change is always good in theory but in practice this is a mess. We are a family left in limbo with no idea whether our application will be approved eventually. We should’ve just moved house.”

It would seem that although the reform of public administration was designed to make public services simpler, it has only served to make things more complicated and frustrating for the public.

Laura’s girls go for gold

 

u19 squad

Netball’s Northern Ireland under 17 squad took on the under 19 national side on Sunday in preparation for the upcoming European championships. Following an impressive warm up, the girls took the court in front of an audience of Netball Northern Ireland officials, family and players. Ahead of the European championships weekend in June both squads have been undergoing intense training and Sunday was a chance to show off their skills and play against tough competition.

The squad will play in front of a home crowd later this month in Lisburn Racquet’s club. However, the under 19s will also be heading to Loughborough the same weekend for the first under 19 championships in four years.

After speaking to head Coach Laura Montgomery, it looks as though they’re going for gold. When asked about her squad Laura had nothing but positive things to say: “I feel very lucky to have such a superb squad with great depth. It will be extremely tough coming off the first under 19 championships in four years but we are well prepared.”

The squad’s goal shooter Caroline Davis made an impressive comeback on Sunday after a major injury. After her performance it looks as though she’s well and truly back in the game. Co-captains Sarah Montgomery and Sophie McLean are also an attribute to the squad after being talent identified to compete in the under 21 world youth tournament in February.

They seem to have the experience required to lead the squad out strong and Laura said; “with them both having such great experience we just couldn’t have split them up.” Hence the decision to appoint the girls as co-captains. Laura also said: “Vice-captain Sinead Redmond is also very competent and the camaraderie together with the squad’s experience and high skill level makes for a great combination to put them in the running towards winning that highly sought-after gold medal.”

With England holding their stake as the toughest competition in the tournament it looks as though the girls are in for a challenging yet exciting weekend. Following such encouraging words from the head coach, let’s hope they can return to Northern Ireland with a gold medal and great memories. Good luck ladies.

HOFFMAN’S PERFORMANCE A SALVATION FOR ANTON CORBIJN’S A MOST WANTED MAN AS HE LEAVES HIS ENDURING ON-SCREEN LEGACY.

a most wanted man

Hoffman’s performance a salvation for Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man as he leaves his enduring on-screen legacy.

Muslim refugees seeking asylum is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s becoming an everyday occurrence, thanks to the increasing national security threat. But when a part-Russian, part-Chechen, Muslim refugee arrives in Hamburg with a view to claiming his late father’s vast fortune, the ordinary is out. It’s left at the door of his safe-house.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the covert spy in Anton Corbijn’s adaption of John Le Carre’s novel; A Most Wanted Man. As intelligence are alerted, Hoffman battles corruption, morality and bureaucracy in an attempt to fulfil his sardonic mission to “make the world a better place.”

Rachael McAdam’s role is played with conviction. She is the young, ambitious lawyer tasked with processing Issa Karpov’s asylum application as well as a social worker, bodyguard and provider. Hoffman however, is the protagonist. He is also a raving alcoholic, chain-smoking, obsessive-compulsive intelligence officer racing against time to restore justice as well as his own professional reputation. Perhaps a little too convincingly.

Given that this was Hoffman’s last role before his tragic overdose, it’s fitting that his character, Gunther Bachmann appears jaded and exhausted. Either it is a reflection of the persona of a spy master or Hoffman was himself exhausted and despondent. The latter rings true.

Whilst the pretence of the film makes for gripping viewing on paper, on screen it’s an entirely different story. Perhaps it was the intention of Corbijn to portray the mundane tedium that is the everyday life of an intelligence spy. As Hoffman waits for his subject’s deal to be done, the viewer waits for the story to gather pace. Seemingly, both in vain. As late night coffee, whiskey and cigarette consumption dominate scene after scene, the viewer could be forgiven for employing said vices to carry them through to the end of the movie.

Finally the plot gathers pace. Albeit, in the final scene and last fifteen minutes of the film.

Hoffman’s performance however, must be commended and arguably compensates for the film’s disappointing dynamic. He is the overworked, overweight, cynical type that a spy should be. As spy thrillers go A Most Wanted Man draws a stark resemblance to John le Carre’s earlier novel; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It is a should-be gripping depiction of a collective battle for justice but lacks the follow-through of an engaging spy thriller with Hoffman’s character bearing an unnerving resemblance to his own fragile state of mind.