Tuesday, 5 October 2010

All hail the newts…

IT turns out that the wildlife is to blame….or maybe it’s those dastardly objectors.

An entire episode of The Blame Game will soon need to be dedicated to the debacle that is planning in Northern Ireland.

In the latest legal wrangle over John Lewis’ plans to open a store at Sprucefield the opponents cited risks to wildlife such as newts, badgers and bats.

This provoked the ire of the Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, who lambasted all and a sundry - not least the wildlife.

Now, here is the dichotomy. The Environment Minister is charged, as part of his brief to protect the environment. Also, as part of his brief he is charged with the task of ensuring planning processes proceed as necessary.

Of course, his main objection to the objectors was that the wildlife was being used as an ‘excuse’ to tie the process up in legal wrangles.

Which, he said was responsible for creating a backlog in other issues which could benefit the Northern Ireland economy with thousands of jobs.

With all the high-powered, high-paid barristers; massed legions of lawyers and the serried ranks of civil servants one might suspect that it is all becoming a little bit stupid.

Yes, stupid.

Everyone agrees that economic regeneration is generally a good idea. Everyone agrees that protecting the environment is generally a good idea.

So where is the fight? The fight is about the vested economic interests.

And therein lies the rub. Both sides (those representing city/town centre, and those representing out-of-town shopping) must have calculated the cost versus profit equation in terms of hiring the legal teams.

Minister Poots has nailed his colours to the mast of economic development out-of-town at Sprucefield, with his fellow Lisburn representatives casting a jaundiced eye at Belfast’s political representatives.

And that’s not even to mention the other many planning enquiries that are being held up.

Which may, of course, lead to one question: can the planners not deal with more than one enquiry at a time!

Throughout this week we have tried to obtain a comment from the bats at Sprucefield without success. Equally the badgers have been silent.

However, a newt spoke off-the-record to us. “Insects, worms, slugs – give us the food and we’ll think about moving,” he said. “Do John Lewis give newts discounts or do we have to travel into town for a 10% off the insect range?

“It could make a difference to which way we intervene in court!”

Stadiums up to date and fit for purpose

THE sports debate is a debate that has managed to occupy more time than anyone with a life.

First there was the Maze.

Seemed like a good idea – have a multi-sports stadium, where three sports can gather on any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday. And given how small Northern Ireland actually is it’s not that far to travel.

That was kicked into the long grass, never to be seen again.

As for the compromise solution, it seemed that the Government were to stump up cash to develop Belfast’s rugby, Gaelic and soccer stadiums.

But with all sorts of arguments at the heart of the Irish Football Association the investment in all the sporting stadiums has, according to the Minister of Sports, Nelson McCausland, to be halted.

It has to be said that the logic at holding up two of the three stadium developments for the sake of one is tortuous at best.

We all know that come the Treasury’s Spending Review there will be a drastic reduction in capital budgets.

In other words, after October it may be the case that all three will be ruled offside.

Which, the very, very cynical could say is the game plan all along?

We are of course neither cynical nor favouring one sport over another. We provide cross-community criticism of all sides.

But, ultimately one has to conclude that the sports stadium debate has run on too long – only Sir Alex Ferguson has ever seen more minutes added to a game.

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