The Planning Manager provided the Committee with the principal aspects of the application for a single level car park at the site for two years. He advised the Members that the applicant had advised that the temporary nature of the application would provide a stop gap in order to provide funds and to allow the future regeneration plans of the site to be considered.
In relation to a Member’s question, the Committee noted that the application had been called in by a Member and that the City Solicitor and the Director of Planning and Building Control had agreed that it would be referred to the Committee for its consideration.
The Planning Manager outlined the main issues which had been considered in the assessment of the application, including access, parking, design and impact on character and appearance of the area, impact on amenity and air quality.
The Committee was advised that the application site was unzoned whiteland within Belfast City Centre in both Draft BMAP 2015 and the BUAP.
The Planning Manager outlined the planning history of the site, highlighting that previous applications for a car park on the site, the most recent being Z/2012/0128/F, had been refused. The Members were also advised of an enforcement appeal, ref 2011/E013, where the enforcement notice had been upheld and planning permission was refused. He outlined that the main refusal reasons in those decisions was a failure to demonstrate that the proposals met an identified need.
The Committee was advised that, while it was noted that previous planning permissions had been granted for the redevelopment of the site, and that there was a pending planning application for an office development, LA04/2016/0559/F, there were no current live permissions for the redevelopment of the site.
The Members were advised that the site was within an area of parking restraint and that the current application contravened the main planning policy objective of seeking to promote a modal shift from the private car to more sustainable modes of transport. He explained that a statement of need and a planning consultant’s report had been submitted with the application but that a robust assessment had not been provided to demonstrate an identified need for the car park.
The Planning Manager added that DfI Roads had been consulted and had objected on the basis that the application conflicted with Policies AMP10 and AMP11 of PPS3.
The Committee was also advised that two objections had been received, which stated that the proposal was contrary to planning policy and to the Belfast Car Parking Strategy and Action Plan, the proposal was targeting long stay commuters in an area of parking restraint, there was no indication that other nearby car parks were full and that demand should not be confused with need.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr. G. Smyth, objector, to the meeting. He provided the Committee with a number of reasons as to why he felt that the Committee should refuse the application, including that:
· the proposal was contrary to planning policy;
· the last time the site was legally used as a car park was in 2003;
· it was not compliant with AMP 10 and AMP 11 of PPS3, and the SPPS; and
· the demonstrated need was not there.
The Chairperson then welcomed Mr. A. Mains, representing the applicant, and Ms. K. McShane, Transport Consultant, to the meeting. Ms. McShane outlined a number of reasons why they felt that the Committee should approve the application for a temporary car park, including that:
· the applicant was a new owner of the site;
· anti-social behaviour was prevalent on the site currently;
· the temporary approval sought was for two years;
· they felt that they had demonstrated the need in their statement of need document in April 2019, including on-street car parking in the surrounding area and that the proposal could alleviate that issue;
· the site adjoined Lanyon Place Railway Station and that they envisaged controlled use by short-stay users of the Belfast/Dublin train route, not for commuters in and out of Belfast which could be easily managed by pre-booking;
· in relation to AMP 10, they advised that two transport assessments had been carried out, one for the apartment unit which contained 230 parking spaces, and the second for an office development, which the Council had approved (but which was subsequently quashed at Judicial Review) and that both would have generated more traffic than the current application – therefore, they were content that there was no increase in congestion over and above what had previously been approved;
· the positioning of the site meant that commuters would be taken off East Bridge Street and therefore that they would avoid the Cromac Street/Ormeau Road junction and that it would not lead to a decrease in local environmental air quality;
· in relation to AMP11, they stated that the car park could alleviate the impact, temporarily, from the McCausland car park which was closing and with events held at St. George’s Market; and
· that LA04/2016/0559/F was the long-term plan for the site.
In response to a Member’s question regarding the two year term, where the policy suggested that one year was the most appropriate, the Transport Consultant explained that the long term aspiration for the site was the aforementioned office accommodation, application LA04/2016/0559/F, and that they did not want to have to come back seeking a 6-12 month temporary extension, but that they were ready to commence construction on the office accommodation as soon as possible.
A Member stated that commuter parking was a real problem in the residential streets surrounding the site and that the DFI response was unsatisfactory.
A Member queried whether the Council would be leaving itself open to challenge if it refused the application, given that the agent had said that generated traffic levels were higher in previously approved applications. The Planning Manager confirmed that the application was not being refused due to congestion, and he clarified that there was no demonstrated need for the proposed car park. He confirmed that the proposal would unnecessarily encourage additional traffic into the city centre, was inherently unsustainable and that it was contrary to what the Council was trying to achieve. He added that each application was judged on its own merits and that a car park at this location was unacceptable.
In response to Members’ questions regarding air quality, and specifically the fact that Environmental Health had raised no objections, the Planning Manager explained to the Committee that Environmental Health had to scrutinise the Air Quality Management Survey which had been submitted by the applicant. He advised the Members that increasing air quality was part of the reason for the creation of the policy which sought to reduce car usage.
After further discussion, the Committee agreed that the application be refused and delegated power to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of the reasons for refusal.
(The Committee adjourned for a 5 minute break at this point)