The Principal Planning officer provided the Committee with a detailed overview of the proposal to demolish Havelock House and the construction of a build to rent apartment block. He explained that the height of the proposed building varied with a maximum height of 8 storeys located in a central location along the Ormeau Road, with the height stepping down to 7, 6, 5 and 3 storeys to the rear.
He outlined the main issues which had been considered in the consideration of the application, including:
· the principle of demolition;
· the principle of residential development at that location;
· acceptability of height, scale, layout and design;
· impact on the character of the area including built heritage;
· impact on adjoining amenity;
· access, Car Parking and Sustainable Transport Measures;
· environmental considerations e.g. Air Quality, Noise, Dust, Contamination, Lighting; and
· drainage and flood risk.
The Members were advised that, in the BUAP the site was located within the city centre and was not zoned for any use. They were advised that, in draft BMAP 2004 and 2015 the site was located within the city centre and within the Shaftsbury Square Character Area and was not zoned for any specific use.
The Principal Planning officer advised that 73 representations had been received and he advised that the issues had been addressed within the report. The concerns related to:
· the historical significance and heritage value of Havelock House, which should be listed;
· concern regarding Department for Communities listing evaluation;
· the Heritage Statement was inadequate;
· that it would damage the setting of 5 listed buildings;
· that an Environmental Impact Assessment was required to address the cumulative loss of heritage assets;
· insufficient unallocated parking;
· the scale of the development would be detrimental to the neighbouring properties;
· the potential to destabilise interface associated with the site;
· Disruption associated with noise, dust, site traffic; and
· the level of engagement between the Council and local community in relation to the application, particularly with the challenges of COVID-19.
He advised the Members that the maximum height of the proposed building was comparable to that of the adjoining 8 storey apartment block at Portland 88. He illustrated that the proposed development stepped down from 8 storeys fronting the Ormeau Road to 7, 6, 5 and 3 storeys towards the rear of the site and the adjoining existing established residential area off Donegall Pass. The Committee was advised that the separation distances were considered acceptable. The Principal planning officer reported that the orientation of the building and the path of the sun would ensure that there would be no adverse overshadowing from the proposed development.
The Principal Planning officer explained that HED objected to the proposed development and considered that it would have an adverse impact on the setting of listed buildings, in particular those in the Gasworks due to the height of the proposed development and advised that the proposed development was contrary to Policy BH 11 of PPS 6 and paragraph 6.12 of the SPPS.
He explained that, if the Planning Committee was minded to approve the application, the Council would be required to notify the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) given the significant objection from HED in accordance with Section 89 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.
He outlined that DFI Roads had no objections to the proposed development, which proposed 40 on site car parking spaces, including 4 spaces for use by a car club and 4 disabled spaces. The applicant had also proposed the following green travel measures to support the development, which would be secured through a Section 76 Agreement:
· submission and implementation of a Residential Travel Plan;
· Travel Cards for each residential unit for 3 years;
· provision of 4 permanent car club spaces; and
· provision of discounted membership of a car club (50%) for a period of 3 years
He drew the Committee’s attention to the Late Items Pack. He advised the Members that the Council’s Good Relations Unit had been consulted on the objections from Save Havelock House and Donegall Pass Community Forum, which raised specific concerns with regard to the impact of the development on the existing interface at Vernon Street. He outlined that their response had not changed from what was in the Case officer’s report, in that they had no objection to the development, explaining that, while the Council had a commitment to promote shared space but, as it did not own or maintain any structures referred to in the planning application, it had no influence in the development of the built environment in that area.
He added that the Council’s City Regeneration and Development Team had also been consulted in respect of the concerns regarding the interface at Vernon Street. He explained that they were in support of the development as it met core policies of the Belfast City Centre Regeneration and Investment Strategy (CCRIS) 2015.
He outlined the details of a number of other objections which had been received since the publication of the case officer’s report from Ms. Clare Bailey MLA, Ms. Paula Bradshaw MLA, Dr. Ken Griffin, Dr. Agustina Martire, Friends of the Earth, Save Havelock House, Donegall Pass Community Forum, Markets Development Association and a petition of objection.
The Committee noted that a request had been received from “Save Havelock House” to be permitted five minutes to address historical and technical issues in relation to the application, which they advised were different to the perspective from local residents. The Committee agreed that Dr K. Griffin, Save Havelock House, would be granted five minutes to address the Committee, in addition to the group of objecting residents, who would be represented by Ms. S. Green, Donegall Pass Community Forum. It was therefore agreed that the applicant/agent would be given ten minutes to address the Committee.
Councillor Groogan advised the Committee that she objected to the application for the following reasons:
· it was contrary to BH11 of PPS6;
· the height would have a significant adverse impact on the listed buildings in the vicinity and that Portland 88 should not be used as justification to continue to pass applications which continued to breach planning policy and which ignored the cumulative impact on the setting of those buildings;
· it represented an increase in height from the Portland 88 building;
· the height was incompatible with Shaftesbury Square Character Area under both version of BMAP, where it should be between 2 and 3 storeys, and that developments should be fine-grained in nature;
· also contrary to BUAP Tall Buildings policy CC12;
· it did not represent sustainable and quality residential development in line with PPS7;
· limited residential amenity space would be provided and it sought to rely on publicly funded open and play space within the area which was not in line with OS2 of PPS8 and did not meet the exception test;
· it failed to comply with LC1 of Addendum to PPS7 due to significant detrimental impact on the environmental quality of residential amenity in the local area;
· it would create increased air pollution, due to increased cars from the development;
· issues with noise, overshadowing and lack of privacy; and
· that she had issues with NI Water’s response, given the well-documented waste water capacity issues in the City.
(Councillor Groogan left the meeting at this point in proceedings)
The Chairperson then welcomed Councillor T. Kelly to the meeting. She advised that she objected to the proposal for the following reasons:
· that residents of Donegall Pass had first-hand knowledge of living beside a construction site while the nearby Portland 88 building was being constructed, and that it had significantly impacted upon their mental health and some had indicated that they may move house if the proposal was approved;
· that, as with any other inner city area, there was already a significant problem with commuter parking and the proposal could mean adding another 230 cars into the area;
· those cars would again reduce the air quality of the area for residents;
· that bin collections and deliveries were already regularly unable to be made as a result of mass commuter parking;
· an eight storey building beside two storey houses was inappropriate and would cause significant overlooking, overshadowing and loss of privacy for existing residents;
· the tall Portland 88 building should not be used as a precedent for approving the proposed development, given its impact on the Donegall Pass community.
The Chairperson then welcomed Councillor McDonough-Brown to the meeting. He explained that he objected to the application, as:
· the size of the building was disproportionate for its context;
· HED had reservations about the scheme;
· with only 40 parking spaces provided as part of the scheme, for 270 units, there would be a significant insufficient supply which would undoubtedly add to the existing demand in the area;
· that the residents of Donegall Pass and the Markets were at risk of being squeezed out of their areas, due to the significant amount of development around them, and that this should be given significant consideration; and
· that the Committee should consider the listing of the building which was the only television studio on the island which had survived from that period.
The Chairperson then welcomed Ms. S. Green, Donegall Pass Community Forum, to the meeting. She explained that she represented residents who objected to the application for the following reasons:
· Donegall Pass had a significant older community and had some of the highest rates of long-term ill health in the region;
· a high number of elderly residents and both adults and children with long-term mental or physical health conditions were housebound and required high levels of care;
· that residents were so concerned at the proposed development that they had called for an impact assessment to be carried out to evidence their concerns;
· that participation from Section 75 groups, as determined under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, was never easy;
· the pandemic and the restrictions made it even more difficult, if not impossible, for carers to attend information sessions or consultation events as day centres and schools were closed;
· due to the ongoing restrictions, access to the Council’s Community Centre hall, the only place large and safe enough for residents to view and consult on the plans, was denied as residents were told it was not allowed to hold one-off meetings;
· residents had limited capacity and access to IT facilities and therefore hard copy of the plans were requested from and supplied on 29th September;
· a site visit to Havelock House was requested by residents but it was denied with no reason given;
· on 5th October residents had met with planners and had brought up issues regarding consultation on interface issues and subsequently submitted them, in writing, to the Planning service on 9th November;
· on 10th November they had received a response stating that Planners had been liaising with the Good Relations Unit and the City Regeneration and Development Unit, which had not been mentioned at the meeting on 5th October;
· on 13th November, three documents had been uploaded onto the Planning Portal, one of which was a consultation from the City Regeneration and Development Unit, dated April 2020, which seemed a disingenuous manoeuvre;
· no further opportunity to engage with residents had been given and a complaint and a request to delay the application was submitted to Planning; and
· the current plans reinforced the segregation of, and hemming in of, the Donegall Pass Community.
The Chairperson then welcomed Dr. K. Griffin, representing Save Havelock House, to the meeting. He advised the Committee that he urged the Committee to reject the application for a number of reasons, namely, that:
· Save Havelock House was concerned about the Planning Service’s handling of the application and had requested the Council’s records of the Pre-Application Discussion;
· it had taken two months to be sent the information, and it had arrived too late for their written submission and that some records were missing;
· they had found records which raised concerns regarding the possibility that the recommendation for approval of the application may have been pre-determined;
· they had received material which showed that planners had prioritised the applicant’s wishes over good planning choices;
· the applicant had originally been told by planners that Portland 88 was not an appropriate baseline for development and that cues for height and massing should be taken from the surrounding context of mainly 2 storey development, yet, after engagement with the applicant, Portland 88 had become the Planning Department’s baseline;
· issues relating to the interface – whereby the planners report had cast doubt on its existence, yet there was evidence which suggested that the applicant had been asked to make provision for its future reopening, and that the Good Relations Unit had only been contacted regarding the issue ten days ago;
· issues regarding too few parking spaces at the proposed development;
· the building itself had regional cultural significance and national historic importance, and it was the last early regional television station with a large portion of the original fabric intact;
· the planners’ recommendation relied on HED’s Listing Assessment, which he felt was a flawed document produced by authors unfamiliar with the architecture involved;
· the impact statement for Havelock House was not included in the applicants heritage report and which would show that the development would have a major impact on built heritage;
· the demolition of Havelock House would likely have a significant impact on cultural heritage, which should have triggered an environmental impact assessment.
The Committee was advised that Mr. B. McKervey, Historic Environment Division (HED) was in attendance. He advised that HED’s objection focussed on the fact that the development was within the setting of a number of listed buildings, including the Rose Cottage, the former Presbyterian Church in Donegall Pass, the Meter House, the Klondyke Building and the Gas Office, and that the proposed development was very tall and heavily massed in comparison. He suggested that HED felt that a smaller, less dominant development which was more subservient to those buildings would be suitable.
In response to a question from a Member regarding the provision of only 40 parking spaces within the development, Mr. C. Dickinson, DfI Roads, advised the Committee that, given its inner city location, the Department considered it a very sustainable solution, as most journeys to and from the site would be on foot, by bus or bicycle.
Mr. Dickinson explained that the evidence held by DfI Roads showed that there would be low car ownership for the apartments in that location. He added that each car in a car club was shown to meet the needs of 40 drivers. He stated that DfI Roads did not feel that overspill parking would be an issue.
A number of Members raised concerns regarding the low number of car parking spaces which were provided. A number of Members also raised issues with the proposed car club spaces and stated that the proposed Travel Plan was idealistic rather than realistic. Members raised the issue of commuter parking and the impact that this had on the wider Donegall Pass community, the lack of progress which had been made in relation to residents’ parking schemes across the City, as well as issues with the existing public transport infrastructure.
The Members were advised that Ms. S. McCreesh, Environmental Health officer, was in attendance to answer questions. In response to a Member’s query regarding the Air Quality Impact Assessment, she advised the Committee that the inclusion of 40 car parking spaces within an air quality management area was considered acceptable and that they had no concerns regarding the concentration levels of Nitrogen Dioxide or Particulate Matter as a result of the proposals. She did advise, however, that a condition was recommended regarding the installation of centralised heating/hot water system to ensure that there was no adverse impact on air quality as a result of such facilities. A further condition was also recommended seeking the submission of a Dust Management Plan prior to construction.
A Member queried why the Portland 88 building had been used as a benchmark in terms of scale and massing for the proposal, when it was in fact an outlier, given that the vast majority of the surrounding buildings were two and three storeys. In response, the Principal Planning officer explained that the scale and massing were considered acceptable and an appropriate response to its context. He explained that Portland 88 was one material consideration, as part of the site’s context on the arterial route, and that the shoulder height had been reduced through the PAD process to align better with the Klondyke building opposite. He added that the building deliberately stepped down towards the rear in order to integrate with the surrounding residential streets.
A further Member queried the statement made by Dr. Griffin, whereby correspondence showed that the developers had liaised with the Planning Department prior to the application having been submitted. In response, the Planning Manager explained that there was a significant misunderstanding of Pre-Application Discussions (PADs) and that applicants and developers were, in fact, encouraged to discuss their plans with the Planning Department as soon as possible, prior to submission of an application, in order that schemes could be shaped or improved and that the required level of information was submitted with an application to ensure that it was dealt with in the most efficient way. He explained that, specifically in relation to that application, a significantly taller building was initially proposed for the south side and that planners had asked the applicant to lower it. He refuted the allegation that there was any pre-determination of the application.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr P. Stinson, Turley, to the meeting and advised him that he had ten minutes to address the Committee. He advised the Committee that:
· the addition of 270 apartments in a city centre location would make a significant contribution towards one of the aims of the Belfast Agenda;
· it constituted a £28million investment and, over the construction timeline, it would support 88 fulltime jobs as well as apprenticeships as part of the Section 76 Planning Agreement;
· a detailed Pre-Application Discussion (PAD) had taken place with planning officials and statutory consultees over 14 months, resulting in the fundamental parameters for the scale, height, massing and design of the building, having taken account of its relationships with the Ormeau Road, the city centre context and the surrounding residential properties, and that significant changes had been made as a result of that process;
· a pre-application community consultation had been carried out with a public event in September 2018 and that they had engaged with residents and the Donegall Pass Community group, having attended a site visit to their homes in August;
· Havelock House was not a listed building, nor was it within a Conservation Area or an Area of Townscape Character, and the principle of demolition was therefore acceptable;
· the area around the site was characterised by a mix of uses and buildings of varying height and form;
· HED, the statutory authority responsible for considering the merits of listing buildings, had confirmed that there was insufficient potential for listing Havelock House;
· the design had been informed by the surrounding context, in particular the red brick listed buildings opposite the site;
· the height of the proposed building had taken account of its immediate context, where the top floor occupied a small part of the overall footprint, where it recessed on the main Ormeau Road elevation;
· the design stepped down in height to 3 storeys at its western boundary, and the separation distances met the requirements as detailed within Creating Places;
· the design ensured that any potential overlooking and overshadowing was very limited;
· the proposed conditions, such as the dust management measures during construction, would minimise disruption and protect the amenity of local residents;
· in terms of amenity space, there would be communal space at ground and upper floor levels, a gym was included for residents of the building and the site was also within walking distance of two equipped playparks. Policy OS2 of PPS8 permitted allowances for such provision to be made off site in that manner;
· the Travel Plan included a number of green measures, including travel cards and discounted access to a car club, in addition to 40 on site parking spaces. It was proposed that those measures would be secured through a Section 76 Planning Agreement and that DfI had no objection; and
· NIHE had confirmed that there was no need to recommend further social provision in the area that could not be met on available sites in Donegall Pass.
In response to a query from a Member, Mr. Stinson confirmed that they had met with a number of residents who lived to the rear of the site, at their properties, in August. They had provided plans to the residents to help them understand the proposals.
In response to the transport issues raised by Members, the Director of Planning and Building Control explained that as there was no objection from DfI Roads, as the statutory consultee on highways issues, that it would be difficult to refuse the application on grounds relating to those issues.
He provided the Committee with information in respect of the Council’s aims in securing a variety of sustainable transport measures, not just car clubs, and that officers were working alongside the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) in relation to their Transport Plan at a City level. He emphasised that a modal shift in attitude was required in respect of sustainable transport. He advised the Committee that its training schedule for 2021 was being finalised and that it included a session with the DfI, including information relating to car clubs. He added that they wanted to expedite residents’ parking schemes.
A Member stated that they remained unconvinced with the evidence that DfI Roads relied upon, using cities in England or Scotland as examples, and that it did not reflect the culture in Northern Ireland.
The Divisional Solicitor advised the Committee that, to refuse an application on the basis of issues around parking, when DfI Roads had confirmed that the proposal was acceptable, it would be difficult to defend, and that the Council would need technical evidence of its own if the refusal was appealed by the applicant. She explained that it would therefore be unlikely to be upheld by the Planning Appeals Commission.
Upon hearing suggested refusal reasons from Members, the officers conferred to encapsulate the wording.
Moved by Councillor Brooks,
Seconded by Councillor O’Hara,
That the Committee agrees to refuse the application for the following reasons:
1. the proposed development, by reason of height, scale, massing and design would have an over-dominant impact on the surrounding listed buildings and therefore failed to meet SPPS Policy BH11 of PPS6;
2. the proposed development, by reason of height, scale, massing and design would have an over-dominant impact when viewed from Ormeau Avenue and the residential streets to the west and north-west, causing harm to the character and appearance of the area, and therefore failed to meet SPPS policy QD1 of PPS7; and
3. the proposed development, by reason of height, scale, massing and design would have an over-dominant impact on the residential properties on Walnut Street, Walnut Court and could result in a loss of outlook and amenity to those occupiers, contrary to policy SPPS QD1 of PPS7.
The Committee delegates power to the Director of Planning and Building Control for the final wording of the refusal reasons.
On a vote, thirteen members voted for the proposal and none against and it was declared carried.
(Councillor Groogan returned to the meeting at this point)
(Councillors McKeown and Nicholl left the meeting at this point)