The Committee was reminded that, at its meeting on 18th August, it had deferred consideration of the application to allow a representative from the Department for Infrastructure (DFI), Roads to attend, in order to answer questions surrounding the number of trips associated with the application and the trigger for providing mitigating roads infrastructure.
The Planning Manager provided an overview of the application to the Committee.
He informed the Committee that, after the agenda had been published, the following representations had been received from 2 objectors, and a further objection from Ards and North Down Borough Council in addition to their earlier objection detailed in previous late items dated 25th August, 2020:
· Negative impact on Exploris, tourism and other businesses in Portaferry and Ards Peninsula;
· Contrary of Regional Planning Strategy and PPS16 as the proposal did not safeguard a tourism asset and would damage rural tourism;
· Queries in relation to the rationale of the DfI Roads request to reflect a sensitivity test to include an increase of 25% in the final trip rates, of using survey figures from similar projects which were conducted in 2005 and 2006; trips and figures quoted; whether DfI Roads had reviewed annual monitoring figures for other approvals in the area; Traffic congestion on Queen’s Road; the Transport Assessment Form (TAF); whether the proposed opening of the proposal would be affected by the pandemic and lack of secure funding; the response of the Economic Development Officer; and the employment of aquarists.
The Planning Manager outlined the response of the Planning Service to the aforementioned issues raised, as set out in the Late Items Report Pack. He concluded that the proposal was acceptable having regard to the Development Plan and relevant policies, including Policy AMP10 of PPS3, given the extant use of the site as a car park, and other material considerations.
During discussion, regarding a concern raised by a Member in relation to the tone and material of the façade of the application, the Planning Manager stated that the final finish of the materials would be agreed in consultation with the HED and conservation officer.
He stated that, if the Committee approved the application, a condition to require the full implementation of the permanent landscaping and public realm works within 3 years of operation, together with a condition to ensure that the Planning Service was consulted on the tone and material of the façade, prior to construction, would be applied.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr. L. Walsh and Mr. C. Dickinson to the meeting, representing the Department for Infrastructure.
Mr. Walsh reiterated that the DfI was content with the application and that the aforementioned Late Objection did not change that recommendation. He explained the sensitivity test of 25% in trip rates was a positive, as actually meant that more robust analysis had taken place and the traffic growth surveys, which had recently taken place, had shown the traffic growth in the area had been less than predicted. In relation to the queries regarding the Queen’s Rd junction, he explained that their assessment noted that the visitors to the attraction would miss the morning and peak times for traffic congestion. He clarified that, in relation to the accumulation effect of vehicle trips to the junction, this application brought it to a trigger point but not over it.
During Members’ Questions, he explained further the area of which the trigger point covered, and other applications in the vicinity that lay outside of this.
The Chairperson welcomed Ms. S. Tinsley and Mr. K, Thomas, representing the applicant to the meeting.
Ms. Tinsley suggested that the application would bring significant investment to the area, together with 51 jobs once completed. She highlighted that the location was selected by the applicant due to its proximity and compatibility with the surrounding area, which would also extend the visitor experience.
She explained that the application had been designed to complement the Harland and Wolff Head Quarters and would have no detrimental impact on the area.
Mr. K. Thomas suggested that the application would have appeal across the generations and would have high-quality displays to recreate marine environment from around the world. He described the educational benefits that a visit to the aquarium would bring to visitors.
During discussion, Mr. Dickinson explained further the trigger points in relation to traffic in the area and confirmed that the profile of traffic predicted for this application would not have a meaningful impact on the traffic signalling system. He explained that the Catalyst development could only be fully occupied once the Eastern Access Road was in place.
After discussion, the Committee granted approval to the application, subject to the imposing of the conditions set out within the case officer’s report and delegated power to the Director of Planning and Building Control for the final wording of the conditions.