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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Business demands 'no cold storage'
developers model of retail development
Decision is needed on disputed Belfast development

"It's going to be different this time. We're not going to put decision-making into cold storage, we can't afford to operate on a care and maintenance basis."

Those are the views of a senior official in the Northern Ireland Office on how Northern Ireland will be governed following the return to direct rule.

His words will be widely welcomed by business leaders and community representatives concerned that the current crisis could blow off-course plans set in train by the devolved administration.

While there was criticism in the early days of the assembly about the quantity of legislation making it onto the statute books, in the past few months it has been different, with several important bills making their way through the assembly at the time of suspension.

Decision has not yet been taken on whether to introduce water charges
Decision has not yet been taken on whether to introduce water charges

The biggest, and one of the most significant, is the Energy Bill.

Among its clauses one which is essential to the extension of a natural gas pipeline to the north-west of the province.

This would 'postalise' the price of gas, so that it costs the same to deliver to Coolkeeragh Power Station on the Foyle, as it does at Ballylumford in the mouth of Belfast Lough.

Without this clause the economics of building the pipe-line and of rebuilding Coolkeeragh wouldn't stack up.

As the companies behind the two projects have been given commitments that it will be done, there is an obligation on government to get the legislation in place.

Failure to do so has been described by the outgoing Enterprise Minister Sir Reg Empey as "economic vandalism" as it would deprive communities along the pipe access to gas.

Development decision

Also high in the ministerial in-tray will be a decision on a major retail development in Belfast city centre.

The outgoing minister responsible for regeneration, Nigel Dodds, had signalled his intent to override the views of the Planning Appeals Commission and approve the project, subject to a final round of consultation.

That consultation period ran out last week, and the developer, at least, will be pressing for an early decision.

The commitment to keep a legislative programme running could also see some hard choices made by the incoming ministers - hard choices that the assembly had been bracing itself to take.

Revenue dilemma

The administration's commitment to improve public services meant that new ways had to be found to raise revenue.

There are two likely candidates: increasing rates and introducing water charges. Neither will be popular.

Ironically the current circumstances could allow local representatives to avoid some of the blame.

As pressure for the increases has also been coming from the Treasury in London it may also suit the purposes of the national government to push through the initiative during suspension.

On 7 November, BBC Northern Ireland will be turning the spotlight on business with its own Business Day.

Topical issues from the world of commerce and industry will be highlighted in programmes throughout the day, while at 2235 GMT on BBC 1 there will be a one hour special programme hosted by Declan Curry.

See also:

19 Apr 02 | N Ireland
12 Sep 02 | N Ireland
21 Sep 01 | N Ireland
02 Dec 99 | Business
16 Jun 00 | N Ireland
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