The Planning Manager (Development Management) presented the details of the application to the Committee.
The Members were advised that the site was located within the development limits of Belfast in both the Belfast Urban Area Plan 2001 (BUAP) and both versions of draft Belfast Metropolitan Plan 2015 (dBMAP). It was within a draft Area of Townscape Character (ATC).
The main issues which had been considered included the principle of the proposal at that location; demolition; impact on the character and appearance of the area; impact on built heritage, impact on amenity, access, parking and transport; infrastructure capacity; and impact on human health.
The Planning Manager outlined that the principle of residential redevelopment was acceptable on the basis that the site was within the development limits in both the extant and draft plans and historically would have been used as a dwelling. The Development Plan did not preclude housing from the location.
He explained that it was considered that the existing building made a positive contribution to the character of the area and its demolition would normally present concerns. However, the difficult history of building was a material consideration and justified the removal of the building. Notwithstanding, he advised that it was still necessary for the applicant to demonstrate an acceptable redevelopment proposal and “putback”. It was considered that the design of the proposed apartments, in terms of their design, scale, massing and site coverage, would be inappropriate for the site and locality and would harm the character and appearance of the area.
The Committee was advised that sixteen letters of objection had been received, citing issues with parking and traffic; failure to respect the built context/local character of the area; concerns regarding the design and layout of the proposal; overdevelopment of the site; impact on listed buildings; impact on residential amenity; inadequate amenity provision; noise; security and health and safety concerns; inaccurate plans; unacceptable use; that further engagement with victims of the abuse scandal was required and that it was contrary to planning policy.
The Members were advised that the Council’s Conservation Officer and Urban Design Officer had submitted objections in relation to the proposals. The Conservation Officer had concluded that the building made a positive contribution to the surrounding area and that its demolition would be contrary to policy. However, in this particular case, the building had a very difficult history as the site was formerly the Kincora Boys’ Home and had been subject to a Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in 2017. The Members were advised that that was a relevant material consideration which could be taken into account in the assessment of the application. Given the difficult history of the site, it was considered that the demolition of the building would be acceptable. However, the acceptability of the application was still dependent on a suitable redevelopment scheme.
The Conservation officer raised concerns about the redevelopment scheme, citing issues around overdevelopment, scale and massing. They had commented that the extensive site coverage represented significant overdevelopment of the site in comparison to both the existing and neighbouring plots.
DFI Roads, HED and Environmental Health had also been consulted in respect of the application and had confirmed that they had no objections.
The Planning Manager advised the Committee that it was recommended that planning permission be refused on the grounds that the design of the proposed apartments was inappropriate and would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the area.
The Committee’s attention was drawn to the Late Items pack, whereby NI Water had maintained its objection to the application, as a high level assessment had indicated potential network capacity issues in the local sewer. The Planning Manager outlined that NI Water had raised significant risks of detrimental effect to the environment and on existing properties and that connection to the public sewerage system should therefore be curtailed. If approval was granted, a condition was recommended to prevent development above sub-floor level until an extension to the existing surface water network could be provided.
The Members were also provided with further information from officers in relation to the density in the surrounding area. Whilst density varied in the area, the site proposed a density at around double the highest density in the area and four times the lower densities.
The Deputy Chairperson welcomed Mr. S. Beattie QC, Mr. D. Stelfox and Mr. D. Ewing to the meeting, who represented the applicant and agent.
Mr. Beattie QC advised the Committee that:
· the current building on the site was notorious;
· the original application submitted comprised a traditional design which the planning department did not like;
· the award-winning architect Mr. D. Ewing was then brought in to create a new design, which was peer reviewed by Mr. D. Stelfox, a renowned conservation architect;
· the design created an enhancement to the area which should carry significant weight;
· the draft ATC was not of material weight and PPS6 did not apply;
· to suggest that LC1 was a reason to refuse the application was incorrect, as it was on a main arterial route and there was a presumption in favour of greater density on such a location, as supported by a recent PAC decision on the Antrim Road;
· the character of an area was not defined by abutting premises;
· there was a modern architectural building opposite, Hawarden House;
· it was a mixed use area;
· the PAC had recently described an unashamedly modern development in a draft ATC in Belfast as being acceptable and that policy did not compel proposals to replicate the design of neighbouring development;
· QD1 paragraph 4.24 expressly stated that the policy did not preclude quality contemporary design using modern materials;
· it was ironic that the previous traditional design was rejected and that officers were recommending a refusal for the more modern design in front of the Committee;
· in Policy QD1 of PPS7 the applicable policy presumption was “unacceptable damage” in established residential areas, not detriment; and
· the assessment ignored the fact that the development was on the corner of North Road and that HED had found that the listed building adjacent to the site would not be adversely affected.
A Member requested further information on the design from the architects in attendance.
Mr. Stelfox advised the Committee that the current façade onto the North Road had a fairly plain return and a large open space which allowed an untidy view of the rear returns of a number of neighbouring properties, thus no attempt to create a streetscape.
He added that the proposal in front of the Committee created an attractive new road frontage and townscape onto both the Upper Newtownards Road and North Road, reflecting the scale and design of the properties on the opposite side of the road and that required extending the building footprint. He pointed out that HED did not find that it would affect the character of the nearby listed buildings or the townscape and did not have any objection to the proposal.
Mr. Ewing explained that the building had been designed to be respectful of the scale and proportion of the surrounding buildings and that the brick and aluminium which were proposed were low maintenance and sustainable for the busy corner site.
In response to a Member’s question in respect of the character of the area, Mr. Stelfox advised the Committee that the area comprised a variety of building styles with a mix of uses, including a number of modern retail units, a fire station and office buildings. He added that the application would enhance the busy junction.
A Member asked officers to confirm whether Policy LC1 applied on arterial routes. The Planning Manager advised the Committee that officers believed that it did apply. He explained that Annex E defined an established residential area as “residential neighbourhoods dominated by medium or low density single family houses with associated private amenity space and gardens… the areas may include buildings in commercial, retail or leisure service uses, usually clustered together and proportionate in scale and size of the neighbourhood being served”.
In response to a further Member’s question as to what the correct policy test was for QD1, whether it was “unacceptable damage” or “respecting the built form”, the Planning Manager advised the Committee that QD1 stated that “all proposals for residential development would be expected to confirm to all of the following criteria – (a) that the development respected the surrounding context and was appropriate to the character and topography of the site in terms of layout, scale, proportions, massing and appearance of buildings, structures and landscaped and hard surfaced areas”. He advised the Committee
that officers believed that the application failed to respect its context for the reasons as outlined within the report.
Moved by Councillor Hussey,
Seconded by Councillor Spratt,
That the Committee grants approval to the application, as it does not believe that Policy LC1 applies given that it is a mixed use area and not an established residential area, and that it is on an arterial route; and in respect of Policy QD1, that the application respects the built form in the surrounding area in terms of the use of brick and the design, and how it improves the turn on the corner, and gives delegated authority to the Director of Planning and Building Control to prepare and finalise the wording of the conditions.
On a vote, ten Members voted for the proposal and three against and it was accordingly declared carried.