The concept of planning zones has received considerable attention in Northern Ireland of late. The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), currently filled by Peter Robinson, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein (SF), added a last minute amendment to the Northern Ireland Planning Bill which purports to give power to the OFMDFM to create “economically significant planning zones” where planning would be easier and arguably subject to the control of the OFMDFM.

The proposal grows out of a commitment in the economic pact entered into by the NI executive and the British government in the summer 2013. It appears to be driven by the UK Conservative Party’s efforts to speed up planning permission in the UK, and at the same time cut back on environmental protections that prevent destruction of natural resources, and sometimes delay or defeat planning approvals.

The planning zone amendment in the NI Planning Law was not subjected to consultation with the NI legislature’s environmental committee, or the public, nor even with the then Environment Minister, Alex Attwood. Attwood opposed the amendment but it passed with the support of DUP and SF. On October 22, 2013, the current Environment Minister, Mark H. Durkan, withdrew the Planning Bill with the amendment on the grounds that it violates various EU Directives and international agreements.

Alex Attwood        



 Alex Attwood, MLA


 Mark H. Durkan


 Mark H. Durkan, MLA




Some further ideas to explore on Planning Zones in Northern Ireland

Identify which EU laws and/or regulations are likely violated by the planning zone amendment.

Identify any other international agreement that may be violated by the amendment and explain how it violates such agreement.

Does the Environment Minister have the power to withdraw a bill, or amendment, that has passed certain stages of the legislative process?



“Alex Attwood opposes economic ‘planning zone’ proposal,” BBC News Northern Ireland (21 June 2013).

Michael Donnelly, “Row over new Northern Ireland economic planning zones,” PlanningResource (25 June 2013).

“Northern Ireland’s ‘unlawful’ Planning Bill set to be dumped,” Belfast Telegraph (22 Oct 2013).

“Planning Bill withdrawn in Northern Ireland,” Planning Portal (24 Oct 2013).

 “Are Sinn Fein & DUP selling out Fermanagh to fund UK Exchequer with fracking revenues?” ieBLOG in irish environment (August 2013).







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