The Principal Planning officer provided the principal aspects of the application to the Committee. She pointed out that a related application, at the adjoining east pitch under reference LA04/2018/1411/F, was also under consideration at the meeting.
The Committee noted that a site visit had taken place at the pitches on 12th August.
The Principal Planning officer outlined that the main issues to be considered in the assessment of the proposal were:
· the principle of development;
· design, visual amenity and impact on character of locality;
· landscaping / ecology / draft LLPA;
· impact on residential amenity;
· access, movement and parking; and
· flooding / infrastructure capacity.
She explained that the proposed hours of operation of the pitch were from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm, Monday to Friday, and 8.00 am to 1.00pm on Saturdays. There would be no use of the pitch on Sundays. The Members were advised that the applicant had confirmed that the pitch was for the primary use of the school only with the occasional use of the pitches for Easter and summer camps as per the existing arrangements with Pirrie Park.
She explained that the proposal involved upgrade works to an existing hockey pitch, thus retaining its recreational use in accordance with Policy OS1 of PPS8 and paragraph 6.205 of the SPPS.
The Committee was advised that 195 representations had been received, comprising of 71 objections from local residents, 119 letters of support from the general public and 5 letters of support from school staff.
The objections raised issues including that the applications should be a major development and that the applicant had sought to avoid the requirements of a major application, lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment statement, light spillage, access issues, noise, significant harm to the visual amenity of residents and wider area, traffic congestion, parking and highway safety issues, drainage/flooding and health and safety concerns.
The representations of support cited that the current facilities were outdated, substandard and unsafe, the development would help the enhancement of girls’ sporting activities, physical and mental health benefits, there was adequate existing parking and access via Ardenlee Avenue, it would benefit children currently attending school, future generations and the local community, the proposed mitigation would limit harm to neighbours and it would provide a positive aesthetic effect on the surrounding area.
The Committee was advised that DFI Roads, Rivers Agency, NI Water, DAERA, Environmental Health and the Landscaping Section had been consulted and had no objection to the proposal.
The Members’ attention was drawn to the Late Items pack whereby six additional objections had been received. The Principal Planning officer advised the Committee of the Planners’ response to the points raised and also clarified two minor errors within the report. She explained that, immediately before the meeting, an additional objection had been received. The Members were advised that it was in relation to a DfI Roads response which had been received by the Council earlier that day in respect of the two pitch applications. She explained that the objector was concerned that he had not had time to consider the information within it but she explained that public consultation was not carried out in respect of consultation responses.
The Committee noted that Environmental Health had recommended a construction management condition.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr. S. Crawford, objector, to the meeting. He advised the Committee that:
· there had been 71 objections in respect of the application, representing 35 neighbouring properties, which represented the properties immediately adjacent to the pitch;
· the vast majority of the supporters of the schemes did not live near the proposed pitches and that only 8 of those supporters resided in the vicinity;
· none of the 8 supporters lived in properties adjacent to Downey House/ Pirrie Park itself i.e. their properties did not run along the boundary of same and thus they would not be directly impacted by the proposed pitches;
· the residents were not objecting to new upgraded hockey pitches being built but rather they objected to the overwhelming scale of what was being proposed, i.e. 2 International standard hockey pitches shoehorned into the corner of Pirrie Park, only a few metres away from the neighbouring properties, to be surrounded by high netting (up to 5 metres high in parts) and fencing and floodlit by 15 metre high lighting columns;
· there was no need for floodlighting and that school hockey had, and could continue to, operate without the need for floodlighting;
· the school very rarely, if ever, played hockey beyond 4pm on weekdays and if matches were necessary after that time in the dark Winter months then it already owned a floodlight astro-turf pitch (recently relaid) at Belfast Harlequins at Deramore Park, which was closer to the school;
· if the applications were successful, a further application would likely be brought down the line to take full advantage of the floodlighting and to extend the hours of usage to 10 pm, Monday to Friday, and extensive weekend usage as originally planned, regardless of the residents` concerns, thereby allowing the school to make a substantial income from 3rd party usage;
· no legally binding guarantee could be given that the school would not apply for extended hours involving extensive 3rd party usage;
· the school submitted two separate applications for the two pitches, thereby sidestepping the requirements which would be required under a major application;
· both applications failed to comply with Planning Policy Statement 8 (PPS 8) Open Space, Sport and Outdoor Recreation and in particular Policy OS 7 (POS 7);
· it was hard to think of a greater adverse impact on residents’ visual amenity and character than 2 very large, caged, floodlit hockey pitches, just meters from the boundaries of their homes, where once there were ground level pitches, darkness and peaceful enjoyment from dusk to dawn;
· no objective evidence had been produced by the applicant, such as a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment;
· the Council had acknowledged the need to comply with the above planning policies when it had built the multi sports pitch at Cherryvale, where the nearest neighbouring property was 37metres from the pitch, not the 3metres proposed here.
The Chairperson then welcomed Mr. S. Beattie QC, representing the applicant, to the meeting. He advised the Committee that:
· neither Methodist College, nor Fullerton House, had any open space and that Downey House and Pirrie Park were key to the sports activities;
· there was a focus on enhancing sport facilities for females within the college;
· the school currently rented pitches for £2,000/week which was unsustainable;
· the two pitches at Pirrie park were 58 years old, they were used and would continue to be used and that considerable weight should therefore be attached to that fact;
· the hours of use and the hours of floodlighting would be restricted;
· hockey was a pretty dangerous sport, with sticks and a hard ball moving at pace, and floodlighting was therefore regarded as a necessity and as a safety feature;
· the suggestion by an objector that a further application would be submitted to extend the hours of operation was without evidence and merit, that the conditions were perfectly clear and enforceable and that the College had commended those conditions;
· considerable weight should be given to the independent expert reports regarding drainage, noise, equality and landscaping;
· statutory consultees had no objections to the proposal;
· the site would benefit from enhanced drainage and a betterment in terms of landscaping in terms of the treatment of the boundaries; and
· in terms of consultation, the had school met with groups of residents, had conducted an open hearing at Pirrie Park and that, due to the ongoing pandemic, planning officers had delivered copies of the plans to residents to ensure that they had sight of them.
A Member asked whether the College would consider engaging with residents and replacing more of the non-retractable floodlights with retractable posts. Mr. Beattie QC advised the Committee that a light assessment had been carried out as part of the application process which detailed within the case officer’s report. He explained that none of the statutory consultees had requested that any of the floodlights should be retractable. The Committee was advised that the College had already, in response to feedback from residents, agreed to make the three floodlights to the west of the pitch retractable.
In response to a further question, as to whether a condition could be added, in respect of whether a further number of the floodlights could be replaced with retractable posts, the Principal Planning officer explained that the lighting had been assessed both individually and cumulatively as detailed within the report, and that as no statutory consultee had any issue with the proposed lighting, it would therefore be difficult to add an onus onto the applicant for an issue which did not exist.
The Director of Planning and Building Control added that any conditions which were attached to a permission must be reasonable and meet the relevant Planning tests.
In response to a further Member’s question, the Principal Planning Officer confirmed that if any future application was lodged to vary to the hours of use at the site, it would be submitted for the Committee’s consideration.
Moved by Councillor Nicholl,
Seconded by Councillor Hanvey,
That the Committee agrees to refuse the application, on the basis that it is contrary to PPS8 OS4 and OS7, in terms of its impact upon residential amenity, specifically the visual impact of the 15metre high pylons and the impact of the floodlighting on nearby houses.
On a vote, three Members voted for the proposal and nine against and it was declared lost.
Accordingly, the Chairperson put the officer’s recommendation to approve the application to the Committee, with delegated authority granted to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of conditions subject to no new substantive planning issues being raised by third parties, and it was agreed.