The Committee was advised that the application had previously been listed for consideration by the Committee on 16th June 2020, during the period of delegated authority in respect of Covid 19. However, Members of the Committee had advised that they did not feel that they had been given sufficient time to consider the late items, which had been submitted on behalf of the applicant, in order to form a view at that time. Consequently, consideration of the item was deferred.
The Case officer provided the Committee with an overview of the application. She explained that the key considerations in the assessment of the proposal were the principle of development and the impact on amenity. The Members were advised that the site was located within a zoned Housing Action Area in accordance with the BUAP and within the proposed Lower Ormeau Area of Townscape Character in draft BMAP.
As the application site fell within a designated HMO policy area, the Case officer explained that Policy HMO 1 applied and that within designated HMO Policy Areas, planning permission would only be granted where the number of HMO dwelling units did not, as a result, exceed 30% of all dwelling units within the Policy Area. The Committee was advised that, out of 370 domestic properties within the Lower Ormeau Policy Area, 122 were HMOs, equating to 32.9%.
She advised that the proposed development was therefore contrary to Policy HMO 1 of the Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) Subject Plan for the Belfast City Council Area 2015, in that the number of HMO dwelling units already exceeded 30% of all dwelling units within the Policy Area.
The Committee was advised that the application had been neighbor notified and that no representations had been received. However, the Case officer outlined that an objection had been received since the June Committee from Councillor Gormley.
The Committee’s attention was drawn to the Late Items pack, whereby the applicant’s son had rebutted a number of points which had been raised in the objection, including that a Special Action Area had not yet been designated. The Case officer provided the Members with the officers’ response to those issues, during which she confirmed that, as the Special Action Area had not yet been designated, it had not been afforded any weight in assessing the application.
The Chairperson welcomed Councillor Gormley to the meeting. He advised the Committee that:
· the proposal was contrary to Policy HMO1 of the HMO Subject Plan 2015;
· the Council had proposed to designate the Holyland and Lower Ormeau Area (including Balfour Avenue) as a Special Action Area, within which the return of properties to family dwellings would be favoured and that allowing new HMO developments ran directly contrary to that intention;
· in addition to HMOs, over 40% of houses in Balfour Avenue were privately rented and only25% were owner occupied/NIHE, which impacted the sense of community in the area; and
· it posed a detrimental impact on parking and residential amenity.
The Chairperson the welcomed Mr. R. Kerr, the son of the applicant, to the meeting. He outlined to the Committee that:
· he felt the figures used by the Planning Department, to calculate the number of HMOs in the Lower Ormeau Road area, were incorrect and were 16 years out of date;
· there were only 69 HMOs in the HMO Lower Ormeau policy area;
· he had received information from the Council’s HMO licensing team which differed from the information provided in the case officer’s report; and
· that the Local Development Plan had not yet been finalised, nor adopted, and so it was not relevant.
In response to a Member’s question, Mr. Kerr advised that he felt that his father was being penalised for following the correct legal process of registering an HMO, by applying for planning permission.
A number of Members queried the difference in the figures used by the Planning Department and the figures used by the Licensing Department and whether there were plans to bring the Planning register up to date.
The Director of Planning and Building Control advised the Committee that, as part of the new Local Development Plan, new, more agile policies would be adopted which would allow officers to be more responsive instead of the inherited policies which specifically dictated the figures that officers needed to use. He added that the 2004 figures were updated as part of the assessment of each new application.
The Committee agreed with the officer’s recommendation to refuse the application, with delegated authority granted to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the refusal reasons subject to no new substantive planning issues being raised by third parties.