Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 17 September 2001


Regional Development Strategy

Housing Benefit (Decisions and Appeals)
Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001

Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill:
Committee Stage (Period Extension)

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Education

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

Department of Finance and Personnel

Titanic Quarter Leases


The Assembly met at noon (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Regional Development Strategy


The Minister for Regional Development (Mr Campbell):

I beg to move

That this Assembly agrees the regional development strategy (‘Shaping our Future’) for Northern Ireland 2025.

On 2 July we were able to debate progress on the formulation of the regional development strategy. That debate was very positive. I valued greatly the contributions from individual Members and was very heartened by the broad support received from the Assembly. Following the debate I wrote to several Members in response to points that I was unable, because of lack of time, to deal with when winding up.

Since then I have made several changes to the text. In the main, these changes tidy up the text and, I hope, in the light of comments made during the debate, make a number of sections of the document clearer. Details of those changes have been incorporated in the final text of the strategy, copies of which have been made available to Members.

However, I wish to inform the House that in response to an approach made by the Regional Development Committee on Wednesday past I propose to make a further amendment to the change that I was proposing to the text on page 73. The last sentence of the second bullet point will now read:

"While the balance of the housing need shall be provided from ‘greenfield’ sites, as much new housing as practicably possible, (as assessed following receipt of the Urban Capacity Study), will be provided within the built up area to seek to achieve the regional ‘brownfield’ target of 60% but without town cramming."

I believe that this further change will reassure the Committee and the Assembly of my earnest commitment to the urban housing drive.

I stress again that the key principles set out in the text that was debated on 2 July remain unchanged. Those principles must underpin, indeed validate, the strategy, and it is worth repeating them.

The strategy is about establishing an important strategic planning framework for the next 25 years, which is much more than planning effectively our public infrastructure over the next 25 years, important as that is. It is about creating the conditions for a long-term competitive and sustainable economic and physical development of the region. Sustainable development concerns all of us. Whether we are in the public or private sector, we need to take account of it in our strategic planning. The strategy is about environmental, economic and social sustainability.

During the last debate I made the point — and this is an important view that is shared by many in the Chamber — that the strategy is critically about building sustainable communities. Social and economic cohesion is at its heart. That need has been all too visibly underscored by the terrible scenes in north Belfast over the past few weeks.

The strategy emphasises the need for balanced development. Every part of Northern Ireland, whether a rural or an urban area, should be able to contribute to a strong and prosperous Northern Ireland, and the regional development strategy is about urban and rural, not urban versus the rest.

It is also about achieving a balanced approach. We need to energise the contribution of different areas and ensure development in the north, south, east and west of the Province. It is also important to support the complementary roles of urban and rural areas — and do so in a way that promotes the overall development of the region.

The implementation phase of the strategy is important. For implementation to be successful, there must be a credible delivery mechanism that has the active support of key stakeholders. Achieving that requires Departments, agencies, councils, business, the voluntary and community sectors and individuals to work together to benefit the region as a whole. However, organisations do not take action, people do, and people implement what they are involved in creating.

Many people have already been involved in getting us to the point where, by leave of the Assembly, the strategy is agreed. That is a major plus. Over the next few months, I will put in place innovative and responsive arrangements at sub-regional level to assist Departments to deliver the strategy and ensure that progress is made across Northern Ireland.

The form of those sub-regional arrangements needs to be discussed. However, the city visioning processes under way in Belfast, Londonderry, Craigavon and Armagh, the work of several district councils that have formed strategic clusters, such as the rural west, and the development of local strategy partnerships under Peace II provide valuable new opportunities for focusing on the needs of specific places. To ensure that progress is managed in a co-ordinated and effective manner, I will establish and chair an interdepartmental steering group.

Monitoring and evaluation are critical for measuring the progress of the regional development strategy. In the autumn I will advance details of the monitoring and evaluation framework to the Committee for Regional Development, for its consideration. I want to work closely with the Committee on shaping that.

We need to ensure that the strategy remains appropriate over time, and we need to record and measure change across the community. That is particularly important in the context of the planning process. Therefore the strategy needs to be sufficiently flexible to enable it, area development plans and the development control process to respond appropriately to emerging trends and opportunities. That need to remain flexible, yet still provide a tension between the various elements, is the reason why I will soon be advancing proposals for a relatively short strategic planning Bill, which will make a minor, largely technical, change to the Strategic Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1999.

Another important component of the strategy will be the development of key regional planning policy statements. The first of these will cover housing, retailing, transportation and the countryside. These overarching regional policy statements are designed to augment and guide a comprehensive set of operational planning policy statements being prepared by the Department of the Environment, which inform the preparation of development plans and decisions on development control. This programme of work on both the regional and operational policy statements is already well under way and will be developed by my Department and the Department of the Environment, working in close co-operation.

In looking at implementation, the spotlight will inevitably fall on housing and the progress towards the regional brownfield target of 60% by 2010. Let us not underestimate it: the target is challenging, particularly when one considers our baseline performance during the 1990s. However, the approach set out in the strategy is a more sustainable way of meeting our regional housing needs.

If we are to achieve that target, there is an onus on my Department and the other key Departments to engage positively with the developers and the builders. My Department is prepared to work with the industry — in whatever forum is most appropriate for it — to see how we might together meet the regional brownfield target.

Another area that will rightly come under the spotlight is the regional transportation strategy, since it is so fundamental to the success of the regional development strategy. On 28 September there is to be a major conference on the transportation strategy. It will bring together over 300 people to help us advance our thinking on how we might deliver a modern, sustainable, safe transportation system that will benefit society and the environment and will actively contribute to social inclusion and everyone’s quality of life.

I want to make a few final remarks. The regional development strategy is not a static single-dimensional framework. It is multidimensional. It must also be dynamic. Beneath the framework there will be a convergence — and I hope just a few divergences — of separate and often linked policies that will have an impact on future development. The trick will be to bring greater coherence to those policies. Also, we need to animate the strategy, by which I mean that we should stimulate debate around emerging policy issues that might have an impact on our drive towards a more sustainable Northern Ireland.

Benjamin Disraeli said that

"The secret of success is constancy of purpose".

In implementing the strategy we should aim for constancy of purpose and for success. I ask the Assembly to agree the regional development strategy.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Regional Development (Mr A Maginness):

This important document will shape and form the development of this region over the next 25 years, and no one should underestimate its importance. We should congratulate the Minister and his officials on producing such a good document. As the Minister has pointed out, it is a framework; it is not something that is set in stone. It will be developed over the years. Nonetheless, this document represents a very important start to the future development of our region.

12.15 pm

I thank the Minister for the way in which he and his officials have worked to shape the document in consultation with the Regional Development Committee. On numerous occasions, and at short notice, he and his colleagues went out of their way to listen to the Committee’s concerns.

As the Minister has said, the regional development strategy is about establishing an important strategic planning framework for Northern Ireland over the next 25 years. I commend him and his Department for the extensive consultation that has taken place, and I hope that that spirit of consultation will continue. As the Committee’s Deputy Chairperson, Mr McFarland, said during the debate on 2 July:

"The support of a panel of international experts, the public examination and the appointment of an independent panel has ensured a rigorous examination that has taken into account a wide spectrum of views, right across Northern Ireland." [Official Report, Vol 11, No 9, p340].

It is now vital that the strategy be implemented successfully.

I welcome the Minister’s appreciation that the strategy is critical to building sustainable communities. As MLA for North Belfast, I agree with him that the recent sad events in my constituency highlight the urgency of starting that work.

I also welcome and support the Minister’s statement that the strategy emphasises the need for balanced development across the region. The Committee was concerned that the strategy would place too much emphasis on the Greater Belfast area and would neglect rural areas. The strategy must reflect the needs of all parts of Northern Ireland, urban and rural, and I welcome the fact that the Minister has taken account of those views and has ensured that the regional development strategy gives due regard to the importance of balanced development.

Successful implementation of the strategy is vital. The Committee debated the draft plans for implementation extensively and made certain recommendations to the Minister. As the strategy is cross-departmental, it is essential that all Departments support it, co-operate, and play their roles fully in implementing it in order to ensure its credibility and ensure the achievement of its aims. I cannot overemphasize that the regional development framework is not simply for the Department for Regional Development; it is for all Departments. It is an all-embracing strategy affecting areas as diverse as the environment, housing, rural development, tourism, business and employment opportunities. Consequently, it is a framework that must overarch the work of all Departments.

The strategy represents a golden opportunity for all of us to create a vibrant and cohesive society with a strong local economy, supported by excellent public services throughout Northern Ireland. I welcome the intention to establish an interdepartmental steering group, to be chaired by the Minister for Regional Development. I also welcome plans to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the strategy carefully. The Regional Development Committee is committed to playing its role in scrutinising progress in these areas and ensuring the successful implementation of the strategy.

The strategy will be vital for future development and planning control. Developers and builders must also support and co-operate with the implementation of the strategy to ensure that its aims are achieved. In particular, I refer to the development of brownfield sites in urban areas. The Committee welcomes the setting of the challenging target of 60% in regard to the use of brownfield sites and urges everyone involved in the development of housing to take every opportunity to avail of such sites.

As the Minister is aware, the Committee pushed the Department very hard on that issue. As recently as the Committee meeting of 12 September, the Committee proposed an amendment to the text of the document at page 73 to include an additional reference to the 60% target for brownfield development. I am pleased that the Minister has accepted the amendment. It reflects a deep and genuine concern on the part of the Committee to seek to ensure that there is a real commitment to developing urban housing, rather than building on greenfield sites.

The Minister’s acceptance of the amendment is a reassurance to the Committee and the many others who lobbied the Committee and who are concerned about the future development of our urban areas. I am pleased that the Department will drive forward a strategy with the primary objective of developing brownfield sites. A clear message must be sent to developers, and the rules must be made clear to planners: brownfield options must be exhausted before consideration can be given to building on greenfield sites. That condition is crucial to ensuring that our cities and towns are regenerated and made much more attractive. The Committee welcomes the strategy’s sequential approach to choosing sites for development and urges that greenfield sites be used as a last resort only.

The impact of the regional transportation strategy is also vital to the successful implementation of the regional development strategy. The vision of a modern, sustainable and safe transportation system, which benefits society, the economy and the environment and which actively contributes to social inclusion, must be realised to underpin and support the regional development strategy. The Regional Development Committee will continue to work with the Department to ensure that a viable transportation strategy is developed and implemented as soon as possible. I wish the regional transportation conference on 28 September every success. It will be an important public consultation. I hope that it will be constructive and used by the Department.

I urge the Minister and the Department to implement speedily the strategy. I also urge all other involved bodies, including Departments and district councils, to play a full and honest role in its implementation. I also urge the Department to press on with the development and implementation of the regional transportation strategy, which will be a vital complement to the regional development strategy.

As the Deputy Chairperson of the Regional Development Committee, Mr McFarland said on 2 July,

"We must all look very critically at how the necessary funding for the regional development strategy is to be found .. It is clear that alternative means of funding must be found to ensure that the improvements to our roads and water infrastructure, and the transport system, can go ahead." [Official Report, Vol11, No9, p341].

— there is little point in developing plans such as the regional development strategy unless adequate funding is made available —

"The Committee for Regional Development will be carefully monitoring and examining progress on that issue." [Official Report, Vol 11, No 9, p341].

This problem can be addressed in part through the allocation of additional funding under the Executive programme funds. I urge the Minister to make a strong case for such funding to the Minister of Finance and Personnel.

I thank those Committees that provided constructive commentary on the regional development strategy. I pay particular tribute to the Regional Development Committee, which worked very hard to painstakingly examine and study the various drafts of the strategy. They have made useful and constructive suggestions to guide and advise the Department, and we now have a strategy that provides a vital framework for the future development of this region over the next 25 years and beyond.

I support the motion. The Committee unanimously supports the strategy document, and I ask Members to agree the report and allow the Minister to begin the implementation of this vital strategy.

The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Regional Development (Mr McFarland):

I welcome the document and associate myself with the Chairperson’s remarks. I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for their close co-operation, which is probably a model of co-operation that other Committees should look at because of its excellence.

At last we have a plan to take Northern Ireland forward. However, it needs to be co-ordinated. The Minister, notwithstanding the Committee, might want to look at the possibility of an executive steering committee as a way of tying the Executive and the Ministers into supporting the strategy. It could be that if particular Ministers were to object to the strategy, there might be a difficulty at ministerial level rather than at Executive level. He might consider such a committee if things were not to move forward at the speed that he would wish them to.

The targets for brownfield sites, which the Chairperson mentioned, are ambitious: they depend on the urban capacity study. When we discussed this issue we understood that 60% was a high target. The logic behind it is that if we have such a target, subject to confirmation from the urban capacity study, we stand some chance of achieving it. If a low target is set, we would almost certainly achieve it, but that would not do what we are trying to do, which is to encourage brownfield development in urban areas.

A change of planning ethos comes with the document, and that is something that developers should pay close attention to. The document changes the practice of building and development in Northern Ireland forever. Its fundamental ethos is that we look at our environment and pay closer attention to it. We cannot any longer simply build where we wish to; sadly, that, has been the practice over the last number of years. We have only to look at our constituencies to see that that is the case. This is one issue that will unite all 108 Members. There are planning problems in our constituencies due to builders and developers building in an unplanned way. It is to be hoped that the regional development strategy will get a grip on that situation and solve the problem.

As regards how the strategy might be advanced and the issues developed, I have particular pet issues that I would like to share with the House. First, there is the use of existing rural sites. Throughout Northern Ireland’s rural community there are sites where buildings have started to fall down. For some reason we seem to ignore rebuilding on those sites because it is cheaper to build on new greenfield ones. We should look at rural communities and build on existing sites.

Secondly, we have all had experience of developers. Behind my property a perfectly serviceable house was knocked completely flat because it was cheaper for the owner to do that and build a new house than to extend the existing one. It is absolutely crazy. I appreciate that such matters are not necessarily the Minister’s responsibility, but they are part of the whole business of planning and strategy, and we need to look at them.

We need a co-ordinated transport network, and the regional transportation strategy will help us with that. When driving a goods vehicle from Dungannon, one can hurtle up the M1 — or if coming from Ballymena, one can hurtle down the M2. However, the moment that one hits the Westlink, one virtually stops. It is ridiculous in this day and age — and the Minister has got this issue in hand. It is crazy not to have a system that allows drivers to get through Belfast quickly. We need a system for taking goods rapidly to our airports, railheads and seaports.

That needs to be developed as part of this sort of strategy. Northern Ireland’s links across the Irish Sea need to be improved. Yesterday I headed off down the A75 — a road beloved of us all — when travelling with my children to university. The Assembly must work with the Scottish Parliament to sort out some way of improving our east-west links; they are not fit for the twenty-first century.

12.30 pm

Rural roads must also be tackled, as Members from west of the Bann will know well. From Lough Neagh eastward one can get to most places fairly quickly. However, in the west of the Province the key transport corridors must be improved to allow the emergency services and others to get around and have fast access.

This is a good day. The strategy gives firm leadership. I commend the Minister and the Department for Regional Development and urge the House to support the motion.

Mr R Hutchinson:

I join the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Regional Development in congratulating the Minister on the document. I would also like to thank the many departmental officers who took time over recent months to come to the Committee and explain in detail the many aspects of the regional development strategy (RDS). That has been helpful. It has added to the smooth running of the process and contributed towards our eventually getting to the stage where the Committee could give its total support to the Minister’s plans.

The regional development strategy is a wide-ranging document of considerable content. Twenty-five years seems a long time, but, as Members know, time has a habit of creeping up on us.

Will the Minister tell the House if all the councils in Northern Ireland have finished their area plans and if those plans were taken into account when pen was put to paper on the document? Have some councils neglected to get their plans produced? It is important that every council has an input to the regional development strategy, and I wonder if that has happened.

Housing is a subject that people in Northern Ireland hold dear. The document states that the Minister seeks to widen opportunity and choice and to improve the supply and quality of housing; no Member would disagree with that. It also states that he wants to promote sustainable development. The last two Members who spoke put some emphasis on development in greenfield and brownfield sites. Every Member realises that there must come a time when builders are brought to account. For too long there have been builders in Northern Ireland who seem to have been able to build where they want, when they want and how they want. Under the regional development strategy it is hoped that that will stop, and I am glad that we will begin to see sensible developments — not just in Belfast but throughout the Province. For that reason I welcome the document’s housing policy.

All Members want a vital, modern and safe transport system. Those of us who have travelled in Europe have been amazed at the modern railway and road transport systems that seem to be the norm with our European cousins.

At the end of September we will have a taste of what will be in the transport strategy programme when 300 people will be brought together. The strategy will be put before them, and they will provide feedback.

Will the Minister take another look at some of the railway systems? At the Regional Development Committee meeting last Wednesday alarm bells rang in some Members’ ears when we were told that some of the lines may be mothballed. I realise that money cannot be thrown at everything, but will the Minister consider that some of those railways take people to ports and to crossings between Northern Ireland and Scotland? That needs to be given grave consideration.

I welcome the Belfast metropolitan area plan. No one can oppose investment in our capital city, which has borne the brunt of terrorism for far too long. I congratulate the Minister on that plan, as well as on the Londonderry one. However, will he remember that there are several significant rural towns that also need some type of investment? Together with three of my colleagues, I met with development officers from Larne on Friday afternoon. They are looking for a way to revitalise their town and buildings and bring people back into the town. I thank the Minister for the document, and I am glad to support it. I wish him well in the future.

Mr McNamee:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom cúpla pointe ginearálta a dhéanamh faoin straitéis, gan rud ar bith a athrá a dúradh cheana féin. The Committee has spent a considerable amount of time and effort discussing the regional development strategy. There has been frequent consultation with the Minister and the Department’s officials, and I thank them for persevering with the Committee on the issues raised.

The regional development strategy is a critical document, which will have interdepartmental consequences in developing the region over the next 25 years. The strategy provides for that period, so the document should contain a vision of how we would like to see the region at the end of that time. In the context of the Good Friday Agreement, the vision should be one of social inclusion, economic development, equality in environment and equality for people across the region. The strategy sets out those themes as part of its objective.

The effectiveness of the strategy will depend on its implementation by each of the Departments, with co-operation from social and voluntary bodies. It will also be dependent on the financial resources available.

It is proposed to alter the schedule to the Strategic Planning Order (Northern Ireland) 1999 so that departmental development plans, particularly those of the Department of the Environment and the Department for Social Development, will conform to the strategy as opposed to being consistent with it. The reasoning is that full consistency with the strategy requirement could create unnecessary and undesirable flexibility in the development plans.

I accept that reasoning, but to have plans that, in general, conform with the strategy does not mean that the strategy can be ignored, sidelined or weakened because of other considerations.

I welcome the Minister’s intention to establish an interdepartmental steering group to ensure the strategy’s implementation, to monitor and evaluate its progress and to provide an annual report to the Assembly.

Financial constraints, particularly on transport and the transportation system, will be a major factor in the strategy’s success. The Minister referred to the regional transport strategy that is currently under consultation. That strategy will consider possible sources of finance. However, we must be realistic about the starting point for all aspects of the strategy, not just transportation. It is a sobering thought that the current available budget for essential road maintenance in the region supplies only half of the necessary funding. We must bear in mind that such financial constraints will determine both the strategy’s effectiveness and its outcome.

Tough decisions must be made to agree the regional development strategy on transportation, especially as regards the sources of finance. If we go by current budgetary allocations, we will have to consider sources of finance other than public spending.

The regional transport strategy recognises that meeting future transport demands through road improvements and unrestrained car use is not a sustainable option. It recognises the need to focus on moving people and goods within, into and out of the region, rather than on an increase in the number of vehicles. Moreover, it recognises the need to change travel culture through more responsible car use. Hard decisions will have to be made on those issues.

The strategy’s aim is to change travel culture and to extend travel choice. Reform of a travel culture that sees private car use as the primary means of transport will require a viable and attractive public transportation system. Other measures such as reasonable journey duration and cost may be needed to encourage people to choose public transport ahead of the private car, particularly in larger urban centres and their hinterlands.

The regional development strategy document is a vision for the next 25 years. On other occasions, I have referred to a lack of vision concerning the future of the region’s rail network. The strategy refers to the longterm options to complete a circular link from Belfast to Bleach Green, Antrim, Lisburn and back to Belfast, to create a rapid transit system in the Belfast metropolitan area and to enhance the lines from Belfast to Derry and to Dublin.

12.45 pm

I accept the railway taskforce report, which looks at the short-term future of the rail network. The report opts to consolidate the existing rail network for a short-term period of three to five years. However, if the regional development strategy is to move towards equality and social inclusion across the region, there should be a longterm plan to extend the rail network through Portadown to places such as Armagh, Omagh and Strabane. I hope that when formulating the regional transportation strategy, that will be addressed more positively.

Partnership is the guiding principle for implementation of the strategy, which states that plans for the development of the region will be fully implemented only if there is co-operation with our neighbours on this island and with Britain. There must be co-operation on this island on transportation.

The focus of a cross-border transportation system tends to be on routes from Larne to Dún Laoghaire and from Belfast to Dublin. Historically, under direct rule, there has been a focus on the Belfast metropolitan area. The issue of balance between the Belfast metropolitan area and Derry and rural areas has been raised during the Committee’s work, but there must be a localised focus on cross-border transportation, if towns such as Enniskillen, Omagh and Armagh city are to reach their full development potential.

Brownfield sites were discussed at length by the Committee. Several Members referred to them during the debate on July 2, and I do not want to repeat the arguments. The Minister has accepted that a clear signal must be sent on the development of brownfield sites. However, the strategy sets a target of 60% brownfield development by 2010. That will depend on the result of the survey that is being carried out on the land database as regards availability.

The availability of a site, and the extent of that land database, will be influenced by the Minister’s commitment to the development of brownfield sites. Developers must understand that it is not a matter of what they want to do or can do; it is a matter of what they must do. If the "must do" message is sent, the availability of sites for brownfield development will increase.

Finally, I want to talk about the more local issue of Warrenpoint harbour. Warrenpoint is about four miles from Newry’s town centre, linked, as is said in the strategy, by a dual carriageway. All port traffic to and from Warrenpoint harbour must go through Newry’s town centre. If Warrenpoint is to remain a sustainable and competitive port over the next 20 years, consideration will have to be given to linking the harbour with the Newry bypass, thus avoiding the town centre.

Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Neeson:

Like other Members, I welcome the report, which is based on the principle of sustainability, and I congratulate the Department on the consultation process.

Some time ago the process of consultation began with a public meeting in Belfast. The consultation process has been wide ranging and time consuming. However, it is important to get it right. In the Minister’s introduction to the report, he was realistic enough to concede that there must be some form of flexibility. The report reflects the benefits of devolution for the people of Northern Ireland, and those must be recognised. Although the Department for Regional Development is taking the lead, it is important to ensure that there is an interdepartmental approach to carrying out the plan, particularly in relation to social, economic, transport and environmental issues.

The process must develop in tangent with the area plans, and it must be consistent. It will come as no surprise that one of my major interests is the development and delivery of the Belfast metropolitan area plan.

I have one concern. If there is to be an interdepartmental approach towards delivering the proposals, better co-ordination is needed between Departments, particularly between the Department of the Environment and the Department for Regional Development. As the Minister knows, a major business development in my constituency has been delayed because the two Departments have not agreed on the final process. It is to be hoped that this can be resolved quickly.

I also welcome the proposals for a regional transport policy for Northern Ireland. However, I have serious concerns about the required funding. The Department of Finance and Personnel needs to recognise the importance of the report. It would be remiss of me not to mention the problems of the A2 from Carrickfergus to Belfast. This is an example of area overdevelopment where inadequate infrastructure has been introduced to deal with the subsequent transport issues.

Many Members representing metropolitan areas will welcome the proposed introduction of the Belfast Lough ferry service — a novel idea. There have been experiments with ferry services in other cities worldwide, and I hope that when the project gets off the ground it will be a success.

I welcome the Minister’s statement about brownfield sites. Members have been lobbied strongly by interested parties throughout Northern Ireland. The Minister and the Department should perhaps concede that this is the best approach, as it should set a target that I hope is achievable, particularly in urban areas.

It is important that the Assembly monitor progress on the railways. I hope that the new rail sets will come into operation sooner rather than later, together with the improvements required for various lines.

The issue of transport must be examined from an external point of view as well as an internal one.

As Members may know, the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee travelled to Brussels and Copenhagen last week with the Sabena travel company. Unfortunately, Sabena intends to withdraw that route soon. Brussels is one of many important international links. If Northern Ireland is to develop as a region of the European Union, external transport links are vital.

We must ensure that the general infrastructure — not just roads and railways — is adequate. There must be a level playing field; in particular, I stress that the natural gas pipeline to Derry must be developed. The Assembly should do all that it can to ensure that that project happens.

We must examine social issues at local and regional level. If the plan is to be implemented to the maximum benefit of the people of Northern Ireland, affordable public sector housing, good health and education services and modern retailing facilities must be provided. The Planning Service must adhere to realistic guidelines if we are to protect our countryside. Members must remember that some rural areas are among the poorest in Northern Ireland. The necessary public transport facilities should be provided in those areas. On its visit to Denmark last week, the Committee learnt much about the kind of sustainable waste management programme that we need for Northern Ireland. We should consider that issue for Northern Ireland as a whole. The strategy document is of vital importance to our future.

Ms Morrice:

I said on 2 July that the document was a good start. However, the strategy is meant to cover 25 years, and I am concerned that it is not yet good enough.

Members should look back to 1975. We had not heard about the information superhighway — our superhighway was the Westlink. Bill Gates was a child. Life has changed dramatically since 1975. Members must think about where we are likely to be then, and we must use our imagination and strategic long-term thinking to guide ourselves in that direction.

I welcome the work that has gone into the document, and I do not doubt that it is a starting point. However, we need much more commitment to change. We should think about cars that run on electricity and about energy supplied by the wind, waves or biomass. We must put people at the centre of policy, rather than cars and buildings. There should be children’s play areas on every street corner and green and pleasant land. That vision is within our reach. It is 25 years ahead. People are realising it elsewhere.

We need to be prepared to become much more radical in our approach to change, and we need to start now.


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