'Worst fears' realised over 11 new councils taking on planning powers
ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have criticised councillors for approving a firm's factory plans despite it operating in breach of planning laws for the past decade.
Friends of the Earth NI director James Orr said the case demonstrated its "worst fears" over the 11 new councils taking on planning powers.
The Irish News yesterday revealed a firm operating a factory flouting planning laws for the past decade has received approval for a new plant - seven times larger than the original.
Since 2006 Dmac Engineering has run two industrial sheds for machinery paint-spraying outside Coalisland without planning permission.
The failure to remove the sheds has resulted in court fines totalling £21,000 but the unauthorised development remains standing.
It is located in a disused sandpit south of Annagher Road in an area designated of nature conservation interest.
The site is also being monitored by the Environment Agency over alleged illegal landfilling.
Despite the ongoing issues, the new Mid Ulster Council voted at its first planning committee meeting to approve proposals for a new £2.8 million factory beside the unauthorised units.
The council claims more than 80 jobs will be created.
In 2013 the Planning Service recommended that the plans should be rejected.
However, a planning officer working for the council recommended its approval.
His report admits the proposal "does not accord with the development plan or regional policy" and would likely be refused by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC).
Mr Orr said Friends of the Earth NI had "major concerns" about whether councils will exercise planning powers fairly and transparently.
"This case in Coalisland highlights that our worst fears are being realised," he said.
"What is striking is that the council has approved this application when it knows it was against planning policies. To act in ignorance is one thing - to deliberately act against your own policies at such a high cost to the local community and local amenity is a disgrace.
"This decision validates unlawful activity. This decision says destroying wild places and being bad neighbour and is now legitimate."
Mr Orr, who supports planning functions being transferred to councils, also expressed concern over funds to Northern Ireland political parties remaining undisclosed.
"To fix the planning system we need to have trust that our politicians are not swayed by corporate interests," he said.
A Mid Ulster Council spokeswoman said: "Full consideration was given to the history of the site, including nature conservation interests, and the approval is conditional on a series of measures to address these concerns."