ONE of London's leading primary school headteachers has claimed her native Banbridge has lost its heart - and part of the problem is planning delays.

Dame Anna Hassan, headteacher at pioneering Millfields Community School in Hackney, has spoken of her "nightmare" two year wait for planning permission in relation to her mother's shop at 80 Newry Street.

Dame Anna (nee Fusco) had hoped to turn the premises into a restaurant or pizza bar, but the delays meant she ended up losing four potential clients. Planning permission was finally granted last month.

Dame Anna, who received her title in the New Year Honours in 2006 after the personal recommendation of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, said she endured "months and months and months" of "nonsense". A shortage of staff in the Planning Service was blamed for the backlog.

"I have to say that when I got to the people at the top things started to move. I also spoke to the head of the council, Robert Gilmore, and he was absolutely wonderful and investigated it," she said.

Dame Anna believes that Northern Ireland does not have sufficient infrastructure and therefore needs as many businesses as it can get.

"I am Banbridge born and bred, but I think the heart is out of Banbridge," she said. "I live and work in London and there they are trying to put businesses and the heart back into small communities.

"At my school we have had to get 258 windows done and that (planning permission) has taken less than eight weeks, and the Hackney area is supposed to be bad."

Dame Anna said that the delays meant she lost four potential clients and she "had to do all the running" in terms of the Planning Service.

"I think you need to be looking at the people who invest money and bring employment," she said.

Her brother Frank Fusco is also experiencing delays in relation to the building of a warehouse to the rear of his property at 52 Newry Street.

"My business will be bringing employment and so will my brother's. It takes too long to get planning permission and you are left in limbo. It's a nightmare for people. It's not only Banbridge but the whole Craigavon area.

"If I ran my school or my business like this I would be sacked. It's about people looking after people," she added.