The Principal Planning officer provided the Committee with a detailed overview of the retrospective application for roof top plant works.
She explained that the application site was located within the Belfast City Centre Conservation Area, and within close proximity to a number of listed buildings, including the Scottish Provident Building and the City Hall. She outlined that the proposal would have a detrimental impact on the setting of the most prominent view of the important listed buildings, due to its unsightly and non-historic form.
The Committee was advised that it was considered that the screens would result in a negative impact on the setting of the City Hall when viewed from its gardens and from Donegall Square. The screens were also considered to be contextually inappropriate to the backdrop of the Scottish Provident Building.
The proposal was assessed against and was considered to be contrary to the SPPS, BUAP, Draft BMAP, PPS6 and Section 104 of the Planning Act 2011.
The Principal Planning officer reported that Historic Environment Division and the Council’s Conservation Team had been consulted, and both consultees were unable to support the proposal. The Committee was advised that no third party comments had been received.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr. G. Graham, applicant, to the meeting. He outlined that:
· the scheme known as Merchants Square was unique, it was the only building of its kind in Belfast to achieve the BREEAM sustainability rating of excellent;
· fifteen previously vacant shops now housed new businesses in its immediate vicinity;
· PwC would relocate to Merchants Square and the building was being fine-tuned to meet its requirements, specifications and standards;
· the standard Belfast office fit-out was not acceptable for a global centre for PwCs in terms of its block chain and cyber security operations, which would be operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year;
· extraordinary volumes of plant were therefore required to meet the needs of the company, including ventilation and cooling requirements for the technology which had to be of international standards;
· they had approached the planners in September 2018, having looked at how they would fit those requirements onto the already approved roof;
· the roof plant applied for in the current application covered 14,000sqft where the plant or screen causing offence covers less than 1,000sqft, less than 0.3% of the entire site;
· some works had been finished and had been approved by building control but unfortunately there was no other location for the plant to go as they did not physically have the space;
· he had reviewed the consultees comments and noted the officer’s conclusion;
· he had worked continuously since 2016 to enhance the look of the Conservation Area and had successfully navigated six planning approvals in respect of the building;
· the screens had been mounted to attempt to soften the look of the ventilation ducting which, although unsightly, was absolutely necessary;
· the screens could be moved, lowered or changed to an alternative material, but the plant could not; and
· if the cost of securing 3,000 new jobs for the City was permitting a piece of ducting, that was a small price to pay.
A Member stated the importance of retaining the look of the Conservation Area. In response, the applicant welcomed the opportunity to enter into discussions with the planners in relation to finding the best way to progress on the issue.
A further Member welcomed that the building had attained such a high BREEAM sustainability rating. However, he stated that he had concerns in relation to the built heritage and the visual amenity of the proposal. He questioned why works had commenced on the plant if he was aware of the specific concerns around built heritage.
In response, Mr. Graham advised that the previously approved goods lift was higher than the plant which had been erected on the roof, and therefore he did not think that it would have been an issue for concern. He added that he wanted to pay deference to the listed Scottish Provident building as well.
A number of Members stated that they felt there was more room for discussion between the planners and the applicant and that Mr. Graham had demonstrated that he was willing to engage in such discussions.
Moved by Councillor Garrett,
Seconded by Councillor Nicholl,
That the Committee agrees to defer consideration of the application for further information, and to allow further discussions to continue between the applicant and planning officers, taking into account the points raised by both HED and the Conservation officer, in order to try and find a workable solution.
On a vote, nine Members voted for the proposal and four against, and it was declared carried.