The Committee was advised that the application had originally been listed for consideration by the Planning Committee on 16thMarch, 2021. The application was withdrawn from the agenda and the Committee had agreed to hold a pre-emptive site visit. The site visit had taken place on 8thApril, 2021. It was then on the agenda for the Committee meeting of 20thApril, 2021. At that meeting, the Committee had agreed to defer consideration of it to allow further engagement to take place between the developer and local residents. It was subsequently on the agenda of the 14th September, 2021, however, it was again withdrawn to allow further engagement between the developer and local residents.
The Principal Planning officer explained that the application was originally deferred in April 2021 to allow for further engagement between the developer and the local community. She outlined that, despite considerable delays already, the agent had requested further time to complete a separate PAD process prior to the Council making a decision on the application. To date, she explained that no further information or amended drawings had been received.
The applicant had submitted a Pre-Application Discussion (PAD) in January 2022 in relation to alternative mixed use proposals for the site. The Members were advised that the proposals were fundamentally different to the scheme proposed under the application in front of the Committee and would therefore require a fresh planning application to be made if the applicant wished to pursue that option. She explained that officers considered that deferral through Committee was not the forum to consider alternative schemes which, in themselves, would be required to follow due process.
The Committee was advised that, having afforded an additional 10 months within the process to resolve any local issues, officers considered that the application should be presented to draw it to a conclusion as nothing new had been presented in respect of the application.
The Committee’s attention was drawn to the Late Items pack, whereby correspondence had been submitted from an objector stating that the PAD proposals should be shared with the Members. The Principal Planning officer explained that the PAD which had been submitted was not yet valid. She added that an additional 182 objections had been received to the proposed development and that Councillors Gormley and McKeown had both submitted objections in respect of the application.
The main issues raised by objectors included:
· a lack of consultation with the community;
· poor quality and amenity of living space;
· fire safety concerns; and
· the destruction of built heritage
The issues had been addressed within the Case officer’s report.
The Principal Planning officer presented the details of the application to the Committee.
She outlined that the key issues which had been considered during the assessment included:
· the principle of demolition;
· impact on character of the area and nearby listed buildings;
· impact on residential amenity;
· impact on sewage infrastructure;
· adequacy of proposed amenity space; and
· social housing need in the area
The site was not zoned for a use within BUAP or draft BMAP, however, it was located within the Victoria Street / Oxford Street Area of Townscape Character (ATC), as designated within dBMAP. As the application site lay within a draft Area of Townscape Character (ATC), it was considered that the test to be applied to assess demolition was whether the proposed development would result in unacceptable damage to the character of the ATC. It was considered that the proposed redevelopment of the site maintained the overall character and respected the built form of the local area. The proposal was respectful of the surrounding context and was appropriate to the character and topography of the site in terms of layout, scale, proportions, massing and appearance. She also highlighted that the proposed building incorporated some of the interesting features of the existing building. It was considered that the proposed development of the site did not result in a net detriment to the character of the ATC, and therefore the proposed demolition was acceptable.
The Committee was advised that, although the proposed amenity space was below the threshold advised in Creating Places, the application site was located within the city centre and was in close proximity to local amenities, such as City Hall Gardens and the River Lagan. On balance, therefore, it was considered that there would be no unacceptable adverse impact on residential amenity for potential residents, with appropriate mitigation offered by way of condition.
The Principal Planning officer reported that NIHE was supportive of the proposed residential scheme and had advised that the proposal would help to address unmet social housing need in the catchment area.
NI Water had responded to the consultation request, advising it had no objections subject to conditions.
The Principal Planning officer advised that, on balance, the proposed development was considered to comply with the tests of the Development Plan and retained planning policy and therefore the officer’s recommendation was to approve the application, subject to conditions.
The Deputy Chairperson welcomed Councillor Gormley to the meeting. He explained that he objected to the application for the following reasons:
· there would be a lack of sunlight and amenity space in some apartments which was contrary to PPS 7, in that it failed to create a quality residential environment;
· the destruction of built heritage, contrary to PPS6, as highlighted by the submission by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society;
· the lack of comprehensive community consultation;
· the Council had submitted a response to the Department for Communities draft Housing Supply Strategy last week, stating that the Council was “committed to early engagement with local communities and stakeholders to ensure from the outset that they were involved in shaping places to encourage sustainable, thriving and inclusive communities”; and
· he urged the Committee to reject the application.
The Deputy Chairperson then welcomed Mr. D. Worthington, representing the Market Development Association, and Mr. C Mackle, architect, who were objecting to the application.
Together they advised that they believed that the Committee should reject the application as:
· it constituted town cramming and it was contrary to Policy QD1 of PPS5 para 6.137 of SPPS;
· it contained wholly substandard levels of private open space which was contrary to Policy PPS 7 QD1 c and Creating Places, and it contained apartments which would experience constant overshadowing and inadequate light levels due to being located at the rear, contrary to Policy PPS 7 QD1 h and the SPPS para 412;
· private open space was essential for all residential developments, with minimum of 10 square metres per apartment – however, only 45 square metres of communal, un-landscaped hard surface was provided on the roof;
· the fact the development was deemed appropriate by officers was because it was for social housing, which suggested it was second rate;
· MDA had been engaging with the applicant to create a more suitable scheme and was supportive of social housing in the city centre;
· the applicant had submitted a PAD with a revised sketch proposal and it was not acceptable that the Planning Department had only clarified the process for the payment of the fee four weeks after the application date;
· the Council’s Local Development Plan and “Bolder Vision” documents were of material consideration, and one of the focus streets in Bolder Vision was Verner Street; and
· a refusal of the current application would clarify ambition for greater quality, people first and community focused regeneration.
The Deputy Chairperson welcomed Mr. L. Ross, planning agent for the application, to the meeting. He advised the Committee that:
· he had been involved with the project since it had started 7 years ago, wherein a PAD application process had resulted in a scheme which didn’t work;
· a further PAD application was subsequently submitted which had found favour with the statutory consultees and the planners;
· a consultation process had taken place with the Market Development Association, which had expressed concerns regarding the proposal, and had come up with an alternative proposal for the site;
· the applicant, Habinteg Housing Association, had agreed that the best way to continue was to conduct a parallel PAD process alongside the planning application given the large amount of time and money that was involved in a PAD process;
· the applicant was happy to facilitate looking at the MDA proposal but that it had invested a lot of time and money in the process to date and didn’t want that effort to have been wasted; and
· requested that the Committee did not refuse the application this evening and instead deferred it to allow more time for the discussions to continue.
A Member stated that the Committee had already deferred the application on a number of occasions to allow further time for those discussions to continue and that officers had advised the Committee that the PAD presented had not yet been validated and would require a new application. He added that he felt that the applicant should have withdrawn the application and continued with the PAD process, however, the Committee had to deal with the application in front of it.
Moved by Councillor Garrett
Seconded by Councillor Maskey and
Resolved - That the Committee refuses the application as it is contrary to Policy QD 1 of PPS 7: Quality Residential Environments in that the proposal would, if permitted, introduce an unacceptable layout through the overdevelopment of the site which would fail to provide a quality residential environment to the detriment of the amenity of prospective residents in quantitative and qualitative terms. Furthermore, the proposal is considered contrary to Policy QD1(h) of PPS 7 as lower apartments would experience an unacceptable impact from overshadowing for prospective residents. The Committee agrees to grant delegated authority to the Director of Planning and Building Control for the final refusal reasons.