Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 2 April 2001 (continued)

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Will the Deputy First Minister confirm to the House the total cost of this visit to the United States of America to the taxpayer? Will he list the officials who accompanied the First Minister and himself and confirm that on this occasion the Deputy First Minister and the First Minister did not fall out over policing? Is that a sign that the First Minister has now caved in to the Deputy First Minister's position on policing?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for the rather predictable question. The cost of the official visit has not yet been tabulated or formulated, but no doubt, the hon Member will put down a written question when it is. The information will then be provided.

With regard to the second part of the Member's question, three officials accompanied the First Minister, three officials accompanied the Deputy First Minister and we were both accompanied by a senior official from our Department.

The matter of policing was discussed; it was discussed during a detailed meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell. As the Member rightly surmised, there was no falling-out over this issue. In relation to the part of the question that he did not ask, I was delighted to see his party leader and his Colleague Peter Robinson present in the same room as us all with the President of the United States and, I assume, pursuing the same objectives.

Mr Davis:

Can the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister confirm that, during discussion with the new American Administration, they stressed the need to proscribe the dissident Republican terrorist organisations and to take effective action to inhibit terrorist fundraising in the United States of America?

The Deputy First Minister:

I can confirm that the First Minister raised this issue in the meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell. There was a very positive response, and I can further confirm that there was no fallout over that issue.

Senior Citizens


Mr Dallat

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to ensure that senior citizens are afforded equality under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and to give an assurance that the appalling attacks on them will be addressed as a major issue for the Assembly.

(AQO 1240/00)

The First Minister:

Attacks on vulnerable senior citizens are cowardly. They must be deplored by all. The Executive and Assembly will wish to give every possible support to the RUC and the courts in making those responsible for such attacks answerable to the law for their crimes. Arising from the Belfast Agreement, a statutory equality duty was introduced under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 which requires public authorities, in carrying out their functions, to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity. Under this new equality duty one of the categories to be considered is persons of different age, which, of course, includes senior citizens.

Mr Dallat:

I welcome the assurances given by the First Minister, which will come as a source of comfort to all those senior citizens who have been attacked throughout Northern Ireland. Can the First Minister go further and assure the House that there is an inter-agency approach to protecting the rights of senior citizens? Finally, can he assure the House that greater recognition will be given to the role of the voluntary bodies, such as St Vincent de Paul, Help the Aged and the Salvation Army, which play a vital role in ensuring that senior citizens really have equality?

The First Minister:

I thank the Member for his question, and I note that there have been some very unpleasant incidents in his constituency which are, no doubt, very much upon his mind. On the question of an inter-agency approach among voluntary agencies, we recognise the essential work carried out by the voluntary and community sector in several areas, particularly in work with, and for, the elderly. The Executive financially support a number of organisations which assist the elderly, including Help the Aged and St Vincent de Paul.

Mr J Wilson:

Does the First Minister agree that the disgraceful assaults on senior citizens are symptomatic of disregard for elderly people in general? Will he assure me that he will start to redress the problem by giving a commitment to provision for elderly people in the single equality Bill?

The First Minister:

The single equality Bill will draw together measures with regard to anti-discrimination and the equality duty under section 75. I am not sure that anything that we would do under that heading will deal directly with the issue of assaults on the elderly. That is essentially a police issue. Of course, if there are ways in which we can deal with that latter point, we will.

Mr Shannon:

I note the First Minister's comments. Does he agree that our senior citizens have made an excellent contribution to society? How will his office address equality in relation to ageism and the fact that at 60 or 65 years of age senior citizens still have a very valuable contribution to make to society?

The First Minister:

We will be going out to consultation on the single equality Bill quite soon. The Member will see that there are a number of issues raised in that which we can deal with. The substantive point he makes is one with which I would agree. Although people may retire at the age of 60 or 65, many of them are still capable of making a very significant contribution to society, and we want to encourage that.

2.45 pm

Agriculture Industry:
Support from Executive EU Office


Mr Bradley

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to outline the level of service and support that the Northern Ireland agriculture industry can expect from the office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels.

(AQO 1195/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

The Brussels office will provide support for the Executive as a whole, but providing support and other services to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development as she helps the Northern Ireland agriculture industry through a difficult time will be a high priority in the coming months. The head of the office has now taken up post in Brussels.

Mr Bradley:

Does the Deputy First Minister accept that, because of the special significance of the common agricultural policy for farming and rural development, it is essential that we have agricultural expertise in the Northern Ireland office in Brussels?

The Deputy First Minister:

Staff in the Brussels office will work for all Departments in accordance with priorities that will be agreed by the Departments. The special significance of EU agricultural policy means that agriculture will have a high priority in the Brussels office. It is a matter for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to set out policy in that area and to determine the nature of its negotiations.

The staff of the Brussels office, working closely with officials from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, will develop contacts with agriculture experts in UKRep and in the Commission and pursue relevant lines of enquiry. Should the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development decide that it needs a dedicated agriculture expert in the Brussels office, we would discuss how that need would be met.

Mr Poots:

Can the Deputy First Minister say how much it has cost to set up the Brussels office? How has the project exceeded its budget by so much?

The Deputy First Minister:

The project has overrun because of internal regulations there and the need to refurbish the office. I understand that the office will be finally and fully open by the end of April. The notional cost was £450,000, which will, of course, be increased by the cost of fitting out the office in such a way that it can offer a proper service to the Executive and to Members of the Assembly who might require assistance while in Brussels, and promote Northern Ireland interests in the European Union.

Mr Ford:

The Deputy First Minister referred to liaison between the Northern Ireland Executive office in Brussels and agriculture experts in UKRep. How will the Northern Ireland view be put directly to the Commission, without being mediated through UKRep, when Great Britain's interests are not the same as ours?

The Deputy First Minister:

Our message will be conveyed directly by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Great Britain. We need to know about what is coming on-stream and about how we might bring benefits to Northern Ireland agriculture. That will be the benefit of having both the office and the expertise of UKRep.

Single Equality Bill


Mrs Courtney

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to make a statement on plans for consultation on a single equality Bill.

(AQO 1251/00)

The First Minister:

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to initiate consultation on a single equality Bill. The preliminary consultation will be on the scope and content of the Bill and will be open and wide-ranging. Our office is planning to hold seminars to discuss what should be included in the Bill, in addition to inviting written comment. Consideration will be given to holding additional meetings for interested groups.

Mrs Courtney:

Will there be consultation on the draft Bill itself?

The First Minister:

Yes. Our timetable for the Bill includes two consultations. The first consultation on the scope and content of the Bill will begin soon and will be open and wide-ranging. A second consultation, focusing on the draft Bill itself, will be held in 2002. After we settle the scope and range of matters, a draft Bill will be published and people will be able to consult on the detail, as well as on the general issues. An equality impact assessment will be carried out on the draft Bill and will be incorporated, along with a regulatory impact assessment, in that consultation.

Mr McNamee:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. We were led to expect the consultation to begin in early spring. Can the Minister be more specific in identifying a date when the consultation will take place, and also give the reasons for the delay in beginning consultations?

The First Minister:

There are several complex issues to be considered in this matter. It is our intention to go out to consultation as soon as possible. We had hoped that that would begin in April, but the Member will notice that I have been careful not to give a commitment on that matter. There are other factors floating around - I think "floating around" is the appropriate term - that may cause problems.

Dr Birnie:

Will the First Minister confirm that in deciding upon the scope of this equality Bill in Northern Ireland, consideration will be given to the wider UK context of equality provision, especially in the light of recent relevant court cases?

The First Minister:

Some of the matters that we will have to consider actually come from outside the UK, such as the Equal Treatment Directive and the Race Directive. In dealing with those, as with any other fundamental matter of human rights, one has to ensure that there is no geographical discrimination within the state, and the state is the United Kingdom. The point was graphically raised several years ago in a case brought by a person who was employed in this Building, a Mr Dudgeon, in which the European Courts held that there has to be equality of treatment within the state.

Unemployment Differentials
(TSN Action Plans)


Ms Hanna

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister what account is taken of unemployment differentials in the development and implementation of New TSN action plans.

(AQO 1247/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

The Programme for Government explicitly recognises the importance of tackling community differentials in unemployment. That is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement, which commits us to the goal of progressively eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities. New TSN is the key Executive policy for addressing social deprivation. It aims to tackle social need and social exclusion by targeting efforts and available resources within existing departmental programmes towards people, groups and areas in greatest social need.

New TSN aims to contribute to the reduction of inequalities among different sections of society by consistently addressing the problems and people who are objectively shown to be in greatest social need. New TSN should, over time, contribute to the erosion of those inequalities. However, it may be necessary to agree objective measures of inequality as a matter of urgency, before any measurement is used in fulfilment of the Good Friday Agreement. For example, we will develop a new up-to-date assessment of the geographical distribution of deprivation.

In addition, as our New TSN publication, 'Making It Work', makes clear, the Equality Commission has been empowered to advise on the community differential in unemployment. It has also been empowered to advise Government on setting benchmark measures for the future reduction of the unemployment differential, involving bringing together representatives of employers, employees, the political parties and other interests. The devolved Administration is committed to working co-operatively with the Equality Commission in all of those tasks.

Ms Hanna:

How will progress on New TSN be monitored?

The Deputy First Minister:

Departments are implementing the actions and objections in their action plans as published in 'Making It Work', and the Executive Committee will be keeping a very close watch on progress on the New TSN action plans across all Departments. Ministers will provide up-to-date progress reports. Every Department will thoroughly review its action plan each year and update it to take account of progress, building in new targets to follow those that have been completed.

Each year the Executive will publish a New TSN annual report so that people will be able to see for themselves what has been achieved during each year. There will be an evaluation of New TSN that will report in 2002 and that will include the involvement of external experts. The outcome of the evaluation will feed into future thinking about New TSN.

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Deputy First Minister for his detailed and reassuring response. If such differential is addressed, can the Deputy First Minister assure the House that it will take into account and be directed at the areas of traditional high unemployment which have a worse differential than any other area in the Six Counties - the north-west and the Foyle constituency?

The Deputy First Minister:

New TSN is not only targeted at people, areas or groups in society that transcend urban boundaries and electoral ward boundaries. We must ensure that a pen picture is created for each area. If that were done on an electoral ward basis, that pen picture would be especially useful for all of us.

In areas that do not suffer from social deprivation there are pockets and parts that are in need, and they must be dealt with. The Executive await the report that has been commissioned from Mike Noble. It is hoped that when those benchmarks are applied we will get proper pen pictures for the whole of the North of Ireland and all the areas that require TSN will be identified - including those pockets in areas that do not have this problem.

I understand what the Member is saying about Derry - and it also applies to Belfast - and about the areas where urban regeneration is taking place. This is useful not as a means to end the problem but as a start to getting to grips with it.

Mr Hussey:

I have listened very carefully to the Deputy First Minister's replies. Can he confirm to the House that much work remains to be done to ascertain a truly accurate understanding of the labour market in Northern Ireland? Further to that, will he tell the House the true reason for the limited unemployment differentials that still exist?

The Deputy First Minister:

A great amount of work has still to be done, and the Executive have to devise the best ways in which to tackle that problem. We all recognise that there is no one path to it, but that there are various aspects of the problem given the people, areas and groups in society to which it applies. Most important of all - as with any problem - we must recognise that there is a problem and that it has to be dealt with. This is not to be a matter of debate for the Assembly or elsewhere, but it is a problem that has to be dealt with if we are ever going to build the type of stable society that we wish for.

Commissioner for Children


Mr Armstrong

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister whether consultation was undertaken with the Government and other devolved Administrations when formulating policy on the appointment of a commissioner for children.

(AQO 1200/00)

The First Minister:

A comprehensive consultation process on the issues of a children's commissioner and a strategy for children is currently under way. As part of that process officials are liaising with the Government at Westminster and the other devolved Administrations to gather information on best practice in those jurisdictions and elsewhere.

Mr Armstrong:

Is the First Minister aware that Scotland and Wales have also moved to appoint a children's commissioner. Given the opportunity that presents itself for the exchange of knowledge and information, will he assure the House that close working relationships will be established with children's commissioners in other parts of the United Kingdom?

3.00 pm

The First Minister:

As part of the consultation process on the proposal for a children's commissioner for Northern Ireland, we are already in discussion with the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales about arrangements there. The commissioner will be independent of Government, so it will be a matter for him or her to develop working relationships with commissioners in other jurisdictions. I would be amazed if they did not wish to do that as a matter of priority.

Mr Ervine:

Does the First Minister share the belief that there should be a requirement for the commissioner to be proactive and have the capacity to direct the security services to deal with circumstances where there is a belief that children are not being properly dealt with?

Mr Speaker:

I am sure that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will respond to that question. The time is up.


Regional Development

Mr Speaker:

Question 13, standing in the name of Mr Hilditch, has been withdrawn.

Belfast-Bangor Railway


Mr McFarland

asked the Minister for Regional Development to outline when the Bangor rail line will be relaid.

(AQO 1229/00)

The Minister for Regional Development (Mr Campbell):

Translink has advised me that the site works for the relaying of the Belfast-Bangor railway line are due to commence on 6 August 2001, with full completion of the project due by 22 December 2001. The work will entail the relaying of some 23 miles of track, representing investment of the order of almost £15 million. It is another step towards the achievement of the consolidation option for the rail network outlined in the railways task force interim report and for which the Assembly agreed funding in December 2000.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair)

Mr McFarland:

I thank the Minister for his most welcome answer. He will know that the Bangor line is the flagship of new rail commuter arrangements for the Belfast metropolitan area with new rails, new trains, a new station and new park-and-ride facilities. Why is there such a row between the Bangor Chamber of Commerce and Translink over the use of the Abbey Street car park as a park-and-ride facility - a row that may blight the opening of the new station on Thursday?

Mr Campbell:

I understand that there are some difficulties, but I am unaware of the precise detail of any problems that have arisen with Bangor Chamber of Commerce. However, I am told that the work will start as scheduled. I will undertake, as a result of what Mr McFarland has said, to investigate whether any delay will arise as a result of the problems he has just outlined.

Dr McDonnell:

Does the Department for Regional Development intend to do something about a light rail system in and around Belfast to relieve congestion and the various defects in the public transport system? In the absence of a light rail system, is there a possibility of upgrading the existing system, or doing whatever it takes to provide a more adequate public transport system in the city?

Mr Campbell:

The issue of light rail and other shifts of modal transportation are being discussed as part of the regional transportation strategy, which, as the Member will know, we hope to introduce to the Assembly in the next three or four months.

Issues such as the light rail system, or any advanced transportation system that presently does not exist in the Belfast metropolitan area, will be considered as part of the strategy. However, I am sure that the Member would not expect me to pre-empt the outcome of the transportation strategy.

I had a very useful meeting last Friday - the first with many of those involved - about the development of the strategy. The issues raised by the Member will form one of many strands that will be examined as a result of the developing transportation strategy throughout Northern Ireland.

Mrs E Bell:

Following Mr McFarland's question regarding the Bangor line, I welcome the Minister's statement on the commencement of the work. Can he assure me that, as well as talking to the Chamber of Commerce, passengers and residents of the area will be advised about the commencement and what is happening throughout the relaying of the line?

Mr Campbell:

I give that undertaking. Translink anticipates that the work can be concentrated into a short period of time through the use of a special relay train. The work will be carried out during a 20-week period. During that period, single-line operation will be required from Monday to Friday and the line will be closed each Saturday and Sunday. Translink will be issuing a revised timetable during the period of single-line operation. I will undertake to ensure that local residents are consulted in advance of any of these changes.

Unadopted Roads and Services
(Prospect Area, Carrickfergus)


Mr Beggs

asked the Minister for Regional Development to advise if the Roads Service will be appointing consultants and subcontractors to upgrade the unadopted roads and services in the Prospect area of Carrickfergus and to detail when the improvements will take place.

(AQO 1234/00)

Mr Campbell:

As I mentioned in answer to the Member's question on 5 March, my Department's Roads Service issued a formal notice giving the developer of the Prospect area of Carrickfergus 28 days to commence the work necessary to bring the roads up to adoption standard. That period expired on 15 March and as the developer did not respond, the Roads Service moved quickly to appoint a contractor to undertake the necessary remedial work. Our contractor has been on site for about one week and the work should be completed by the end of April. The cost will be recovered from the developer's bond.

Mr Beggs:

I welcome the Minister's answer. I was not aware of that when I placed the question two weeks ago. Does the Minister agree that the Roads Service, which is under his departmental control, has been slow in the past to bring developers to account to ensure that roads and services are brought up to the required standard? Can he assure me that the Roads Service will press the needs of residents rather than be perceived to be reluctant to draw down developer's bonds and thus upgrade the roads and services that local residents require?

Mr Campbell:

I understand the frustrations, particularly when there is an inordinately long period of time for the developer to respond. The statutory position is that the responsibility for constructing roads and sewers in new developments lies with developers. The Private Streets (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 gives my Department the right to take action when developers fail to fulfil this obligation. Roads Service practice is to make every effort possible to persuade developers to meet their responsibilities voluntarily. However, as a last resort my Department is certainly prepared to use its statutory powers, as has been demonstrated in the case of the Prospect development.

Mr Gibson:

Is the Minister still confident that the various programmes to upgrade the Maiden City to Aughnacloy section of the trans-European route are on schedule? Is funding guaranteed so that the Strabane bypass, and others, can be assured over the next three years?

Mr Campbell:

I thank my hon Friend for his question and for the way in which he was able to weave that matter into the question.

I wish I were in a position to guarantee funding for these schemes. However, I understand that the Minster of Finance and Personnel may throw light on some of these schemes very shortly. I assure the Member that I am doing everything in my power to ensure that the finance required by my Department to carry out priority road schemes in the major works preparation pool is received so that we can build all of the roads, including those he has referred to.

Mr R Hutchinson:

I am almost tempted to ask about the A8 to Larne, but I will not do so.

Can the Minister assure the House that all will be done to ensure that road and housing developments will be adopted as quickly as possible? This is a problem not just in Carrickfergus but in several new developments throughout Northern Ireland.

Mr Campbell:

I assure the Member that despite the delays that unfortunately have become a feature in some areas of Northern Ireland, my Department's Roads Service is doing all it can to ensure that developers fulfil their obligations. Where developers do not do so, the Department will take action against them similar to that outlined previously with regard to Carrickfergus. If other developers default, we will take the same necessary action.

Road Improvements (Comber Area):
Vesting of Land


Mrs I Robinson

asked the Minister for Regional Development to list the areas where land has been vested for road improvements in the Comber area in the past two years.

(AQO 1224/00)

Mr Campbell:

My Department's Roads Service has vested no land for road improvements in the Comber area in the past two years. However, it is in the process of vesting land for stage 2 of the Comber bypass scheme as well as realigning 500m of the A22 Killinchy road at Flowdam.

Mrs I Robinson:

Can the Minister assure me that the Comber bypass will go ahead regardless of the outcome of the planning application, which included the Comber bypass?

Mr Campbell:

The Comber bypass, as in so many of these instances, is one of a number of schemes where I require the necessary resources to ensure that not only do they begin but that they are completed.

The hon Member referred to a recent planning application - the result of which was announced last Friday - which referred to a residential neighbourhood development and included the bypass and a new junction to accommodate the traffic generated by the proposal. Planning Services' notice of opinion to refuse that housing development covered only that particular version of the bypass. However, my Department already holds a valid planning approval for the original version, so the Comber bypass scheme is not affected by the recent planning announcement.

Mr Taylor:

The decision taken by the Department of the Environment to reject the planning application in respect of the Riverside development in Comber was regrettable and deplorable. The project would have built a bypass without cost to the public purse. Will the Minister ensure that, irrespective of that deplorable decision, the Comber bypass will proceed in accordance with the previous schedule? Will he fight to secure the funds that are now necessary, owing to the rejection of the planning application?

3.15 pm

Mr Campbell:

It is good to see the Member back in the House again. I shall take all necessary steps to ensure that I have the resources to construct each of the schemes in the major works preparation pool. I pay no less attention to the Comber bypass than I do to other road schemes. I know that if I were to mention all of those schemes, Members would add more to the list.

I shall make whatever bids and representations are necessary to ensure that the Comber bypass proceeds.

Mr McCarthy:

The Minister mentioned the A22 Killinchy road at Flowdam. In view of the fact that money was taken from a project to provide a much needed footpath in Kircubbin some years ago and that the Flowdam project shows no signs of coming to fruition, will the money be returned to the budget and used to provide a much needed footpath in Kircubbin?

Mr Campbell:

I cannot comment immediately on the issue of funding for a footpath that was, as the Member said, withdrawn some years ago. However, I undertake to investigate that matter.

The procedures for vesting the land required for the minor works scheme to realign 500m of the A22 Killinchy road at Flowdam have begun. An area of 1·68 hectares will be vested.

Housing (Brownfield Sites)


Mr S Wilson

asked the Minister for Regional Development, in relation to the draft regional strategic framework for Northern Ireland, 'Shaping Our Future', to outline the basis on which recommendations were made to build a percentage of new homes on brownfield sites.

(AQO 1254/00)

Mr Campbell:

The draft regional strategic framework, which was the subject of a public examination in 1999, set targets for the share of residential development to be located in existing urban areas to reduce greenfield extensions. The targets up to 2010 were 55% for the Belfast metropolitan area and 40% for Londonderry and each regional town. The targets were set in comparison with a 60% target for England by 2008 and in the knowledge that 55% brownfield development was being achieved in some cities in England. The local targets also recognised the fact that Northern Ireland is less urbanised than many other regions of the United Kingdom.

The panel that reported on the public examination recommended a minimum brownfield target of 40% for Northern Ireland but said that more challenging targets should be set for individual settlements using the area plan process, which would, in turn, be informed by urban capacity studies. In recent discussions on the final draft of the regional development strategy, the Regional Development Committee expressed serious concern that the minimum regional target for brownfield housing development is too low. I am convinced that there is a compelling case for setting a more challenging and ambitious target, which will support the continuing efforts to regenerate our towns and cities. I reassure the House that, in setting the most appropriate target for brownfield development in the regional development strategy, I will take seriously the concerns expressed by the Regional Development Committee and other Members.

Mr S Wilson:

I welcome the Minister's statement, but does he not agree that the 40% target as it now stands is ridiculously low? Given that no urban capacity has as yet been completed, does he not agree that to have publicly set such a target is wrong and dangerous, insofar as it will lead to more and more pressure on greenfield sites? Does he agree - and perhaps he will look at the figure again - that there will be a substantial increase in the proportion of building to be carried out on brownfield sites and that it will be the equivalent of that set for the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr Campbell:

Several Members have expressed this view, and I share it. In relation to the establishment of a figure, part of the difficulty is that - whether it be 40%, 50%, 60% or more - it almost inevitably becomes the base line against which developers and the wider community expect all development to be set. I am reluctant to be drawn into a hard-and-fast figure from which there will be no deviation. To repeat what I said about examining the figure, I want to see a more ambitious target being set. I will not be drawn into a precise figure, but I know the Regional Development Committee is in the process of expressing a view. I am acquainted with that view, and I will take it, and the views expressed by my hon Friend and others, into account when that time comes with the regional development strategy.

Mr ONeill:

Does the Minister agree that the setting of such development targets in Northern Ireland is more difficult than it would be in England? In particular, does he agree that the difference between the urban area of Belfast and the rural area is significant and that the requirement for them to be treated separately is greater?

I understand and welcome his comments about the urban development capacity and the limits which should be imposed on it in the Belfast city area, but I am most concerned about the figure being too restrictive. We do not have the brownfield capacity in rural areas in Northern Ireland.

Mr Campbell:

If the tenor of the Member's question is the distinctiveness between the Belfast metropolitan area and the rest of largely rural Northern Ireland, then I readily concur. We must establish a figure which is ambitious but also realistic. We are in the process of determining that figure. We will decide what is appropriate when the Regional Development Committee has had an opportunity to examine the matter and has passed its views to me. It will have to be appropriate both for rural Northern Ireland and for the urban centre that is the Greater Belfast area.

Mr Ervine:

Does the Minister agree that we are entitled to be disquieted when he now rejects a figure which was offered to strategic planning by his Department? Does he accept the reality that the higher he sets the figure for brownfield build, the more he creates an ethos? Does he also accept that, in turn, it will be in the minds of the developers that they have to adjust to the circumstances of the new ethos which the Minister himself created?

Mr Campbell:

Perhaps the Member did not hear the reference in the response. I will repeat it so that it will be absolutely clear. I am convinced that there is a compelling case for setting a more challenging and ambitious target which will support the continuing efforts to regenerate and breathe new life into our cities and towns. I have not come to a conclusion as to what the figure should be. I am not indicating a predetermined outcome, rather I am indicating what I am looking at. I am awaiting the definitive response of the Regional Development Committee, and I will then come to a conclusion which will be brought before the Assembly within a matter of a few months.


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