Council trip ‘waste of taxpayers’ money’

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A row has broken out among councillors on Mid and East Antrim’s Planning Committee over a planned best practice study visit to Peterborough.

At the meeting on August 12, councillors debated the recommendation that all 20 members of the planning committee, plus four Council officers, would fly to England for a two-night stay to learn from Peterborough City Council’s planning committee on October 7.

The visit is to be funded through the DOE’s capacity-building allocation.

Planning Committee Chairman Councillor Gordon Lyons told members: “We can’t do this by ourselves-we need to seek out help and best practice from elsewhere.”

Council officer Karen Hargan added that a “fairly good relationship” had been built up with Peterborough City Council following a visit by its Head of Planning to Mid and East Antrim’s Statutory Transition Committee. She said that local councillors would be able to view difficult or contentious planning decisions taken by Peterborough, and see how they were resolved.

Cllr Lyons said that the trip would be opened up to any member of Council.

Sinn Fein Cllr Paul Maguire asked: “The recommendation seems to be Peterborough or bust. What was the rationale of choosing Peterborough which has 120,000 people in an urban city environment?”

Cllr Maguire said that a model of best planning practice was available in Fingal, which could be accessed by bus in an hour and a half, rather than sending “twenty members on a two night stay, all expenses paid.”

He continued: “On the draft itinerary a lot of time is spent conducting business over dinner. I am at an absolute loss to understand the need to fly 24 personnel to Peterborough for a two night stay when we could go to Fingal.”

Cllr Lyons said that the trip had already been agreed, and details were on the agenda for the Committee’s information.

UUP Councillor Stephen Nicholl commented: “I don’t think we have anything to learn from the Republic of Ireland. Good models of practise will carry across irrespective of whether it’s a city, urban or rural environment.”

In a statement released after the meeting, Cllr Maguire added: “Sinn Fein will not be participating in what they consider to be a waste of taxpayers’ money. Capacity building can be delivered without this type of extravagance. Sinn Féin were the only party to record against the recommendation and informed the meeting that they will not be participating in this taxpayer- funded extravagance.”