(Councillor Groogan declared an interest and moved to the public gallery in order to address the Committee on the item, and subsequently left the room for the duration of the discussion and did not participate in the vote.)
The case officer reminded the Committee that it had agreed, at its meeting on 17th September, to undertake a site visit to acquaint itself with the location and the proposals at first hand. He explained that the site visit had taken place on 2nd October.
He explained that a consultation response had since been received from Environmental Health, who had no objections in principle to the proposals and had requested a number of conditions to be included if approval was granted.
The Committee was provided with the key aspects of the application. The case officer explained that there was a scheduled monument on the site, the former laundry chimney, which would be retained as a feature within the significant area of public open space. He advised the Members that a number of matters had been requested to be reserved by the applicant, including the exact size and layout of the apartments, the mix of sizes of apartments and the detailed design of the development.
He advised the Members that the site was unzoned white land within the settlement development limit and, given the site context with adjacent residential development, residential development was considered acceptable in principle subject to other planning considerations.
The Committee was advised that DFI Roads had no objection to the proposals subject to conditions. The case officer pointed out that the proposals included 53 car parking spaces, cycle parking and that the site was on a bus route.
He outlined that HED had also been consulted and had no objections having assessed the proposals against PPS6 and considered that there would be no adverse impact against the setting of the scheduled chimney or adjacent listed buildings.
The Members were advised that eleven representations had been received, one specific and ten standard letters. He outlined the detail of the objections, most notably that the proposal did not include social and affordable housing.
The Committee was advised that the initial response from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) had stated that there was no requirement for social housing in the area. However, he drew the Committee’s attention to the Late Items Pack, where an additional response had been received from NIHE, whereby it stated that, upon reviewing its initial response, it would support the inclusion of 20% social and affordable housing within the scheme, namely 5 social housing units and 5 affordable units. The case officer explained, however, that the agent had been informed of the further response from NIHE but that there was no policy basis for requiring a developer to include affordable housing.
In relation to a question which had been raised at the site visit relating to the density of housing in the area, the case officer outlined that the proposed density for the site was 98 units/hectare. He pointed out that, while the density in the streets immediately adjacent to site, namely the Monarch Parade, Rockland and Lower Rockview Street area, was 44 units/hectare, a density of 97 units/hectare was seen in the surrounding streets of the Benburb, Tavanagh, Rockview and Kilburn Street area.
The Chairperson welcomed Councillor Groogan to address the Committee.
Councillor Groogan outlined to the Committee that she wished to represent the views of her constituents in the Village area of Botanic, in objection to the application. She stated that Anti-Social Behaviour was high in the area and that redevelopment and regeneration of the site was much needed. However, she explained that she felt that the plans were not in keeping with the surrounding area. She outlined a number of reasons why she felt that the application was unsuitable, including that:
· she welcomed the NIHE’s second response which stated support for social and affordable housing at that location;
· the previous planning permission for social housing on the site was more in keeping with the type of development in the area;
· two storey terraced properties were typical in the area, not high apartment buildings, and the proposal which would significantly increase the density of housing in the area;
· it did not respect the local character and amenity of the established residential area under PPS7, nor did it meet Policy LC1 of the addendum to PPS7;
· the case officer’s report stated that there were sufficient neighbourhood facilities in the area and that the area was well connected – she stated that unfortunately that was not the reality, there was no local school, there was limited access to shops and, although it was on a main arterial route, the area had been left behind in terms of public transport provision; and
· the application did not meet QD1 of PPS7.
The Chairperson welcomed the agent, Mr. T. Stokes, and Mr. J. McElroy, on behalf of the applicant, to the meeting. Mr. Stokes provided the Committee with reasons why he felt it should support the application, including that:
· the applicant had undertaken an extensive pre-application discussion (PAD) and consultation in the local area, including the circulation of 400 flyers and an information event in a local church;
· the scheme was the most appropriate design for a brownfield site;
· they had noted the email from NIHE which had stated support for social and affordable housing in the area but he pointed out that this was contrary to their previous response at PAD stage, and was also contrary to another response from NIHE to the application on 2nd July, which had reaffirmed the Executive’s position that there was “no need for social housing at this location”. The agent advised that the designs had been submitted on that basis;
· the high quality scheme would comprise private, affordable housing units, all of which would fall within the bracket to avail of co-ownership;
· the design and scale were appropriate for the context of the area, with significant separation distances to existing properties;
· the designs included two large areas of open space which would be open for public use, not just residents and which were well in excess of standards;
· in conjunction with Planning officers, they had agreed that a negative condition be included in any approval requiring that a scheme of public realm works take place along the Donegal Road and Monarch Street, to be agreed at reserved matters stage.
In response to a Member’s question as to whether the scheme would have included social or affordable housing had NIHE’s initial response at PAD stage been that they would have welcomed social and affordable housing at that location, Mr. McElroy explained that they had originally put forward plans for social housing twice and they had been advised that there was no demand for it. He explained that he felt it was inequitable, therefore, to be told at such a late stage that social housing should be incorporated into the scheme.
A number of Members expressed concerns relating to the Housing Executive’s changed response in the past month and queried whether the 20% figure was a new NIHE policy.
After discussion, the Committee agreed that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), including Mr. Clark Bailie, the Chief Executive, be urgently invited to attend a meeting of the Planning Committee to discuss their policies and their responses in relation to social and affordable housing across the City.
After further discussion, the Chairperson put the case officer’s recommendations to the Committee for its consideration, namely:
“That planning permission be granted, subject to conditions, and that delegated authority be given to the Director of Planning and Building Control to resolve any matters in relation to the outstanding consultation response from Rivers Agency and to finalise the wording of the conditions.”
On a vote by show of hands, nine Members voted for the recommendation and two against and it was accordingly declared carried.