VETERAN house-builder James Hagan says he won’t reverse his decision to turn his back on the Northern Ireland construction sector until problems currently clogging the planning system are confronted.
And he claimed: “Nowadays, unfortunately, you work from the position of a planning refusal and have to buy your way to an approval. That must change.”
Mr Hagan, whose Ballyclare-based company has built more than 4,000 properties across the north over the last three decades, revealed in September that he wouldn’t be purchasing any additional sites in Northern Ireland and, instead, would look to the Republic or Britain “where we can get planning permission much easier”.
Raised on a farm in Doagh, he is now domiciled in Australia and has started work on his first site just outside Sydney.
He used a webinar hosted by MCG Investments’ Tanya McGeehan to launch a scathing broadside at planners and demand that officials sit face-to-face with local developers to solve the issues facing them.
He said: “My patience has run out and I won’t be buying any new development sites in Northern Ireland.
“It used to be that every application was looked at on its own merit with a presumption in favour of development.
“But now you work from a refusal and have to buy your way to an approval. The developer is being asked more and more to make financial contributions to things like purchasing infrastructure when it should come out of one of the planning consultee’s budgets.
“There are a number of local councils which have proven very difficult to work with, and most developers here know it yet are afraid to raise the issues because they are afraid of the same officers causing them further problems.”
Mr Hagan claimed one of his developments – which was supported by elected representatives in the area – was held up for three years.
He said: “I don’t understand why these problems are created. The more investment we have in property, the more roofs are over people’s heads and the more rates are paid. It seems simple really, but appears to be lost on many officials.”
Mr Hagan, who has 10 remaining live developments in Northern Ireland, which he’ll complete over the next five years, urged those involved in the planning process to confront the problems that faced him and are currently facing his peers here.
“We need everyone sitting around a table, from all the bigger house-builders to MLAs. It means there is nowhere for anyone to run to. They can then answer questions and stop blaming each other.
“Let’s go back to the old ways of sorting things out.
“Get everybody around the table, throw it all out there and don’t get insulted.
“This is about problem solving, not problem making,” he said.