(Councillor McMullan left the room at this point)
(The Chairperson reminded the Committee that as Councillors Groogan, McMullan and O’Hara had not been present for the discussion on the item at the previous meeting, on 17th September, they were therefore not entitled to vote on the application.)
He reminded the Committee that it had agreed, at its meeting on 17th September, to defer consideration of the application in order to undertake a site visit to acquaint itself with the location and the proposals at first hand and also for officers to re-engage with the NI Housing Executive in relation to its response regarding social housing need in the area. He explained that the site visit had taken place on 9th October. The Committee’s attention was drawn to the Late Items pack, whereby the case officer explained that the NIHE had reaffirmed its position, stating that there was adequate provision of social housing in the area, with the redevelopment of an adjacent site on Hope Street together with a number of new sites pepper potted throughout the Sandy Row area in addition to the re-letting of existing social housing stock.
The case officer provided the Members with the details of the outline application for a build-to-rent development in the city centre. He advised the Committee that the outline plans included 11 car parking spaces and that a Draft Travel Plan had been submitted with the application to promote alternative modes of travel and to reduce reliance on the car and that it was subject to a Section 76 Legal Agreement. The Members were advised that this included public transport travel cards and access to a car club for residents.
The Members were provided with visuals which illustrated that the proposed scheme had a similar shoulder height to adjacent apartments and that the built form dropped substantially in the middle and also stepped down where it met Sandy Row, in order to mitigate against any potential impact on the residential amenity of the existing residential units on Great Victoria Street. He confirmed that the final scale and massing, built form and materials and design would be considered at reserve matters stage.
The Committee acceded to a late speaking request from Councillor T. Kelly and the Chairperson welcomed her to the meeting. Councillor Kelly explained that she wished to speak on behalf of the Sandy Row community and that she was objecting to the application. She outlined that the residents of Sandy Row were potentially going to be surrounded by seven large apartment or hotel blocks and that the community felt that they were not being consulted with or listened to by developers. She added that traditional housing in the area was being eroded and that the rents being proposed for the new developments were not accessible to the community.
The Chairperson then welcomed the agent, Mr. R. O’Toole, to the meeting. In response to the Councillor’s comments, he advised the Committee that a full community consultation had been undertaken, including having met with public representatives and that they held a statutory public community event as part of the application process. He added that the applicant and agents felt that the design was the appropriate design, scale and massing for the surrounding area.
A Member raised concern regarding the fact that only eleven car parking spaces were being included as part of a development of around 200 apartments. He stated that, while he understood the rationale that residents in the city centre would use public transport more than a car, it was not realistic that nobody would have a car and that he felt that the residents of Sandy Row could be further impacted upon with additional cars parking in the residential streets surrounding the development. The Planning Manager advised the Committee that the site was a sustainable location with good access to shops, services, amenities and public transport and that the application would secure green transport measures to off-set the requirement for additional parking.
He also raised concerns relating to the impact that the development would have on surrounding properties access to daylight. In response, the case officer explained that the developer had made quite substantial changes to the initial designs, having made the proposal much smaller, and, while some impact on the surrounding properties amenity was inevitable, it had to be taken into account that the development was in the city centre and that high density living was commonplace. He reminded the Members that the plans were still indicative and that they could be tweaked at reserved matters stage.
The Committee agreed to that DFI Roads be invited to attend a future meeting of the Committee to discuss car parking and how they assessed the impact of a proposed development on traffic and congestion within an area.
After further discussion, the Chairperson put the case officer’s recommendations to the Committee for its consideration, namely:
“That the Committee approves the application and, in accordance with Section 76 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, delegates power to the Director of Planning and Building Control, in conjunction with the City Solicitor, to enter into discussions with the applicant to explore the scope of any planning agreements which might be realised at the site. The Committee also delegates power to the Director of Planning and Building Control for the final wording of the conditions.”
On a vote by show of hands, seven Members voted for the recommendation and one against and it was accordingly declared carried.
(Councillors McMullan and Groogan returned to the meeting at this point)