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23 September 2014

Question Time Environment - Monday 22 September 2014



Environment Minister Mark H Durkan answered questions on matters including local government reform and fracking.

Shadow Councils: Branding

Ian McCrea asked the Minister what branding guidance or advice he has given to the new shadow councils.

My Department has not given the new councils any branding guidance or advice.  There is no legislative requirement for it to do so, nor, I believe, would it be appropriate.  The new councils require a strong corporate brand to enable their stakeholders to identify with them.  This makes it very much a local matter that councils are best placed to undertake themselves.

My Department does, however, have powers to change the name of a council.  Section 1 of the Local Government Act 2014 provides that the name of each council is the name of the local government district followed by the words “district council”.  Section 1 also allows the Department to make regulations to provide for the name of a council to be other than that provided for by section 1 of the 2014 Act.  I stress, however, that regulations of that nature would be made only at the request of a council and would permit the council to decide on a name that does not end in the words “district council”.

Section 51 of the Local Government Act 1972 provides that the Department may, by order made on the application of a council, change the name of the district of a council.  If a name change order is made under the powers conferred by that provision, the final two words of the council’s name must remain “district council”.

Planning: Policy/Area Plans

Ms Boyle and Mr McGlone both asked the Minister to outline the flexibility and discretion the new councils will have to interpret planning policy and influence the content of area plans.

The Minister stated that "From 1 April 2015, councils will have a statutory requirement to prepare local development plans for their respective districts.  A council plan will be made up of two documents:  a plan strategy, which is adopted first and which will set out the council's objectives and strategic policies for the development of its district; and a subsequent local policies plan, which will set out the council's local and site-specific policies and zonings.

In preparing their development plans, councils must take account of central government policies, such as the regional development strategy and the strategic planning policy statement (SPPS), and, indeed, of relevant European directives.  All this will be tested at the independent examination of the plan".

The Minister had to answer questions on the Transfer of Planning Powers, Donaghadee Second Commons and Enforcement cases within Councils during the 15 minute period of topical questions.