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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Rural planning group to be set up
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The building of single homes in the countryside is being stopped
Assembly members have voted to set up a working party to develop a "balanced policy" for the sustainable development of Northern Ireland's countryside.

The vote was a major watering down of an SDLP motion condemning government plans to restrict the building of new homes in the countryside.

The SDLP wanted all rural planning applications made since 16 March to be considered under the previous criteria.

An amended version of the original motion was passed by 35 votes to 17.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said he welcomed the debate.

"Rural planning policy is currently the subject of public consultation," he said.

"I cannot pre-empt the range of views which that process will produce but I will certainly factor the views of the assembly into the consideration which I will be giving to the form the final policy should take at the end of the consultation period.

"Of course, a restored assembly will have the power to take forward policy in this area - as in others - as it sees fit."

Sinn Fein boycotted the debate on the grounds that the assembly has no control over the issue.

But the SDLP said it was using the debate to challenge the Northern Ireland secretary to reverse the policy if the move had cross-party consent.

It was the new assembly's first debate on bread and butter issues.

In March, the government announced that new plans for single rural dwellings would no longer be considered, with few exceptions.

The then-planning minister, Lord Rooker, said that the measures were designed to save the countryside.

However, the decision was opposed by the SDLP and others in the province.

Rural building a 'landscape acne'
12 Apr 06 |  Northern Ireland
Crackdown on rural house building
16 Mar 06 |  Northern Ireland

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