Progress on the establishment of enterprise zones in Northern Ireland will continue says finance minister Simon Hamilton, despite the withdrawal by environment minister Mark H. Durkan of the Planning Bill.
Amendments to the Planning Bill had been tabled by Peter Weir of the DUP that would have enabled the First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to over-rule planning decisions by the environment minister in the case of “economically significant planning zones”.
Mark H. Durkan withdrew the Bill last week, saying that he had received legal advice that the amended Bill would if enacted breach the European Convention on Human Rights by limiting the capacity of stakeholders to initiate judicial reviews. In addition, said the minister, its passing could open departments to infraction procedures by the European Commission where planning decisions breached European rules on the protection of wildlife.
Simon Hamilton insists that the focus on enterprise zones in Northern Ireland is on tax incentives and is therefore unaffected by the deadlock on the Planning Bill. He says: “The DoE minister’s decision to withdraw the Planning Bill is a disappointment as it would have improved the planning process throughout Northern Ireland.
“This does not impact on our work to consider the creation of enterprise zones that would offer enhanced capital allowances alongside our existing planning, rating and broadband measures, where the Executive has had its own policies in place for some time. We would have liked the improvements in the Planning Bill, but enterprise zones were not dependent upon them.”
In the debate in the Assembly in June when the amendment was tabled, Simon Hamilton – prior to his appointment as finance minister – described an “economically significant planning zone” as “not dissimilar in some of its characteristics to an enterprise zone”. “Although this is not an enterprise zone, one of the key characteristics of such [enterprise] zones…. is relaxed or different planning regimes within them,” he explained.
A system of fast track decisions on planning approvals, alongside a low corporation tax rate, has been a major factor in the capacity of the Irish government to attract foreign direct investment, argued Hamilton at the time.