(Councillor Collins, having declared an interest in the item, advised that he wished to address the Committee on the application but that he would not participate in the vote on the application.)
The Principal Planning officer advised the Committee that the application sought to vary condition 13 of planning permission Z/2014/0077/F under Section 54 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. He explained that the variation of the condition proposed to amend the landscaping plan which had been previously approved. He outlined that he proposal would result in a reduction in the amount of tree and shrub planting. The change was to address community concerns about the impact of the original planting scheme on the open character of the green and concerns around surveillance and anti-social activity.
He advised the Members that the Council’s Tree Officers, Landscape Planning and Development Teams, as well as the PSNI, had been consulted in relation to the amended proposal and that they had all responded with no objections to the proposed variation.
The Chairperson advised the Committee that Councillor Collins wished to address the Committee before leaving the meeting.
Councillor Collins advised the Committee that:
· he had been involved in a campaign with local residents in trying to retain the green space in the area;
· residents did not feel that there had been good communication from the developer at the beginning of the process;
· the changes in front of the Committee reflected the impact of the campaign and that the negotiations had been somewhat successful in achieving a better scheme; and
· there had been an agreement with the school to form a management committee for the facility, to include local residents and community representatives, and, while he recognised that it could not be conditioned, he encouraged the Committee to consider attaching recommendations in respect of the management of the site going forward.
(Councillor Collins left the meeting at this point in proceedings)
Councillor Carson stated that:
· he concurred with a lot of what Councillor Collins had said;
· it had been a very divisive proposal initially, and had caused major concerns for residents but that community engagement and the new proposals around the landscaping of the site had satisfied many of the local community’s concerns;
· he was pleased that the school had agreed to form a management committee, particularly to oversee the community use of the pitch;
· the pitch would be an important facility for young people in the surrounding area; and
· he welcomed the application.
The Committee was advised that Mr. S. McKee, agent, was in attendance to answer any questions from the Members.
In response to a Member’s question, the agent confirmed that, as the site was nearing completion, the management company would be set up at the earliest opportunity and he would contact the school to confirm those arrangements.
A Member stated that, while they had no issue with the current application in particular, there was a large number of applications for 3G and 4G pitches throughout Belfast. The Member queried to what extent the Committee could assess the need for them, to ensure that there was not a proliferation in certain areas, and suggested that there were also issues in terms of access to the whole community as well as environmental concerns.
The Director of Planning and Building Control advised the Committee that a lot of the applications were for areas which were already designated as recreational use and that creating 3G/4G pitches increased the use of those sites. He explained that the pitches were spread across the whole of Belfast and that they had a range of user types and were not reserved for elite sports. He confirmed that, in terms of the overall need for them, the emerging Local Development Plan contained policies in relation to Open Space and Sports Provision, which sought to encourage the development of such facilities, as they were beneficial for residents’ health and wellbeing.
While he acknowledged that there were concerns regarding the environmental impact of 3G/4G pitches, particularly in terms of floodlighting, that the Committee did not have the ability to refuse an application on the basis of overprovision as there was no current policy basis to do so.
A further Member stated that he believed that there was a high demand for 3G/4G pitches within communities. He stated that they were likely self-regulating, given that they were costly to install and that if the owner or other groups were not using them, they wouldn’t be viable.
The Committee granted approval to the application, subject to the imposing of the conditions set out within the case officer’s report and delegated power to the Director of Planning and Building Control for the final wording of the conditions.