Sunday, 16 March 2014

Northern Ireland's 'Outstanding' Public Service

Sometimes I browse through the actions of our public service; sometimes members of the public bring their experiences of its shortcomings to me. I was intrigued by this very recent communication - March 12 - from the Planning Service to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board:


I refer to our consultation letter  31st December 2013 seeking comments on the above planning application.

Unfortunately the 15 working day consultation period has now expired and the issue of a planning decision is being delayed pending your reply.

In order to comply with the statutory requirement and to meet the Department’s performance targets should your reply not be received immediately, a decision may issue without the benefit of your comments.

As this matter is now urgent please let me have a reply immediately.

Please ignore this letter if a reply has already been sent.

NITB sent a reply on March 13 and the Planning Service posted it on-line the same day. Why the sudden flurry of activity long after it should have taken place? Might the Planning Service be tempted to issue a decision on an application with unresolved issues immediately following a long holiday week-end in the hope that it might slip underneath the radar? The Planning Service performance bar appears to be set so low that you might trip over it!

How thorough is the NITB's holiday accommodation certification scheme? Does it consult with the Planning Service, Building Control, Environmental Health and the Fire and Rescue Service? I've seen a reference to a specific requirement on Environmental Health and food safety but not so in regard to personal safety as accessed by those other agencies:

A letter from your local council’s Environmental Health Officer is required in relation to food safety.

It is best practice that a fire risk assessment is completed on the premises, in line with current fire regulations.

Planning approval may be required if you decide to use more than 50% of your bedroom space.

Why isn't there a requirement for similar letters from all of these important safety agencies? NITB advice doesn't even mention Building Control even though structural alterations may well have been made to the premises. It's hardly surprising that such a ramshackle approach should create problems when best practice isn't applied.

Added March 29

Unfortunately the 15 working day consultation period has now expired and the issue of a planning decision is being delayed pending your reply.

This period would have ended about January 24 yet Planning Service sent out an urgent reminder on March 12. According to the Planning Service portal the expiry date for standard consultations is actually April 3. Taking account of the Christmas/New Year holidays, the neighbours had a lot less than 15 working days to seek professional advice and submit a response. It's all very puzzling.