The Planning Manager presented the details of the application to the Committee. He reminded the Members that ithad been due to be considered by the Committee on 18th August 2020, but that it had been deferred due to correspondence received from a legal representative, representing Giant’s Park Belfast Limited (GPBL). The Committee was reminded that GPBL was seeking to bring forward a mixed-use, leisure-led proposal on the adjacent land to the north and west. In responding to the objection, the applicant had produced a second addendum to theEnvironmental Statement, which had been duly submitted and consulted on.
The Planning Manager explained that the Committee had undertaken a site visit in respect of the application in September 2020 and, at its meeting on 19th January, 2021, it had agreed to defer the application for further information on the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA), which had been carried out by Shared Environmental Services (SES). The Committee had also agreed to hold a non-mandatory Pre Determination Hearing which had taken place on 23rd February, 2021.
The Members were advised that a range of issues had been discussed at the Pre Determination Hearing, including:
· the scope of the adopted Masterplan for the wider lands and potential deviation from it;
· the need for the proposed CAD facility in real terms as well as policy context;
· the status of current waste contacts and long-term viability of the proposal.
· where the waste would be coming from and issues around transport sustainability;
· where the by-product waste would be taken;
· the scope of the Transport Assessment;
· traffic management;
· whether account had been taken of the economic impact of the proposal on the GPBL proposals and the adjacent Film Studios;
· noise impacts on the Film Studios;
· the impact of the proposal on air quality including nitrogen and ammonia levels;
· details of the Habitats Regulations Assessment which had been carried out by SES;
· whether the proposal was of regional significance; and
· foul drainage.
Following the PDH, the applicant had provided further information and clarification in relation to a number of the substantive points which had been raised at the Hearing. The Committee was advised that the information had been shared with objectors and was available for viewing on the Planning Portal. The correspondence contained information relating to the source of household waste, the processing of the landfill by-product, the need for the facility, emerging and future waste policy and how the proposal would contribute to realising future waste policy targets, current land-fill of household waste in NI and the extent to which it could be diverted to the application site, the length of waste contracts in the Belfast City Council area, transport sustainability, clarification around the source of the meteorological data for air quality, foul drainage and sanitation and the amount of renewable energy which would be generated through the facility.
In response to the further information from the applicant, the Committee was advised that a further objection had been received from GPBL. The response had been uploaded onto the Portal and included queries regarding the need for the proposal, that planning decisions should not be driven by outdated plans and strategies which did not take account of the current situation, that the proposal would blight one of the most important opportunity sites for the city, the source of the waste, environmental concerns regarding the by-products, land-fill destination and transport sustainability, the length of waste contracts, that the Granville Eco Park in Dungannon had been subject to 97 noise and odour complaints
The Planning Manager advised the Committee that the planning process was concerned with land-use and the suitability of the proposed CAD facility in land-use planning terms. He outlined that the issues raised around the commercial viability of the proposal were not planning policy considerations.
The Committee was advised that the applicant had demonstrated a need for the proposal in accordance with the Waste Management Strategy and the Waste Management Plan and requirements of PPS 11: Planning and Waste Management.
In relation to the technical environmental concerns that the objector had raised, he highlighted that the application and Environmental Statement had been assessed by statutory consultees, including DAERA Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Environmental Health team, a non-statutory consultee. He reminded the Members that no technical objections had been raised.
He drew the Committee’s attention to the Late Items pack, where an objection had been received from John Finucane MP, Gerry Kelly MLA and Carál Ní Chuilín MLA. The Members were advised that a copy had been uploaded to the Planning Portal. The Committee was advised of the key concerns which were raised and the officers’ response to them.
The Committee was advised that a further letter had also been received from the applicant, in response to the matters raised by GPBL in its objection letter of 12 April 2021. The Planning Manager outlined the key points which were raised and the officers’ response to them.
(Councillor Brooks left the meeting at this point in proceedings)
The Chairperson welcomed Councillor Whyte to address the Committee. He stated that he had concerns with the meteorological data which had been submitted and objected to it on the basis that:
· the wind analysis used for odour and air pollution in respect of the site were taken at the Belfast International Airport at Aldergrove, not at Belfast City Airport, where there was also a meteorological station;
· there was no mention of Aldergrove airport in the Local Air Quality Management Technical Guidance;
· there was no legal requirement that Aldergrove airport should be used for gathering meterological data;
· the NIE standing advice it stated that historical data from Aldergrove airport was used, not that it should be used; and
· he urged the Committee to reject the proposal and that measures of air pollution and odour should be taken from a site within the city.
The Chairperson then welcomed Mrs. C. Ní Chuilín MLA to the meeting. She stated that she had strong objections to the proposal, including that:
· the viability and sustainability of such a facility were questionable, given that current waste contracts remained in place for a further 10 years;
· she remained unconvinced that the proposal would not have an effect on the expansion of the nearby Film Studios;
· she believed that the large, multi-million pound leisure-led proposal should not be ignored;
· she struggled to see how such a facility was compatible with the redevelopment in the area; and
· the North Belfast community deserved better investment and she urged Committee to reject the proposal.
In response to a Member’s question regarding the potential impact of the facility on the film studios, she stated that the impact on the film studios should not be dismissed given the importance that it had in terms of job creation and investment in North Belfast.
(Councillor Brooks re-joined the meeting at this point. As he had not been present for the whole discussion, he did not participate in the vote.)
The Chairperson then welcomed Mr. K. Carlin, Project Manager for the Giant’s Park Leisure proposal and Mr. J. Maneely, spokesman for the Local Residents’ Group who lived near the Granville Eco Park in Dungannon, which was a similar facility.
Mr. Carlin stated that:
· he felt that his concerns, submitted to the Council on 13th April, had not been given due consideration by planning officers, as the Addendum report had been published the next day;
· CAD facilities often caused nuisance to the surrounding areas, despite Environmental Impact Assessments having been carried out;
· a Freedom of Information request had shown that 97 noise and odour complaints had been lodged with the NIEA in the past 14 months in respect of the Granville Eco Park in Dungannon, even though it was located in the middle of an industrial park;
· the proposal for the AD plant carried a significant risk, not only for thousands of people in North Belfast, but also to the delivery of the planned 200 acre leisure park;
· once built, the regulation of the plant would fall to the NIEA;
· the radius considered as part of the odour assessment for the Dargan Road application was 350metres, whereas residents as far as 1km from the Granville site had been impacted by noise and odour issues. This therefore removed all residents of North Belfast;
· the applicants letter of 12th March confirmed their intention to bid for the Arc21 waste contract in 2029, which, if successful, could put current operators out of business;
· the MSW organic fines, mostly food waste, was currently ending up in black bins, and that another unknown operator would be involved in that process;
· the other 50% of the by-product had been ignored by the applicant;
· no evidence to support the applicant’s claim that 75% of the liquid digestate would be recycled in the AD process;
· the site was zoned for a mixed-use employment generating uses and the proposed facilitated only sustained 22 jobs and the acceptance of waste management as a land use, as set out within one of site requirements, the second requirement stated that the development of the site would only be permitted in accordance with the overall comprehensive masterplan, why was there such an emphasis placed on one of the key site requirements and complete disregard for the other; and
· GPBL would never have invested such a significant amount of money in the site, had it known about the potential AD plant.
In response to a Member’s question, Mr. Maneely advised the Members that he lived 700metres away from the Granville plant and that it had taken over his and his neighbours’ lives. He advised the Committee that they regularly monitored, complained and reported issues relating to the noise and odour emanating from the plant to the NIEA, and paid for their own noise and air quality consultants. He stated that the low frequency noise caused interrupted sleep for residents and that the odour prevented them from enjoying their gardens and outdoor areas. He cautioned the Committee that, if there was an on-shore wind and the AD plant was in place at Dargan Road, between 3,000 and 11,000 houses would be affected in North Belfast.
The Committee then welcomed Mr. S. Beattie QC and Ms C. McParland, Agent, to the meeting. They were given seven minutes to address the Committee. Mr. Beattie outlined that:
· it was the third time that officers had presented a detailed report having considered a comprehensive environmental statement, a series of consultees’ responses and an investigation and enquiry arising from the objections and that the recommendation had remained an approval;
· paragraph 3.8 of Strategic Planning Policy stated that there should be a presumption in favour of development;
· the application was consistent with the BUAP, draft BMAP 2015, and that the overall Masterplan had been in place for over 10 years and the departures the Council had already permitted had been consistent with the overarching policy;
· this was a departure from the masterplan, as was the leisure-led project;
· substantial weight should be given to the responses from statutory consultees and that they had no objections subject to conditions;
· viability was not a material consideration;
· he clarified an error within the objection letter from the Sinn Fein representatives, in that the contracts would be entered into after planning permission was granted, not after the facility was built/operational;
· the submission from Mr Maneely was not evidence, the Granville plant was not the subject of any enforcement proceedings, and that the Planning Committee could only deal with evidence, not assertions;
· the proposition that the Council did not have any power once the facility was built was incorrect - the Council had powers under the Public Health Act 1978 in respect of noise and odour abatement;
· the Council owned the CHP engines and they did not understand there to be any complaints in relation to them;
· the area had been zoned for mixed-use and had been whiteland for over 20 years; and
· their client had spent over £3million on the project so far, and that it would send an unfortunate message to those in the renewable energy field, that planning policy would be set aside or ignored.
In response to a Member’s question regarding the odour issues described by Mr. Maneely, Mr. S. Wise, Energia, outlined that the sites were designed differently and that more exotic materials would go to the Granville site. He explained that the level of treatment was different for issues like odour. He stated that they had a site in Dublin and were committed to being a good neighbour. The Committee was advised that the building would be under negative air pressure to ensure that it was not causing air leakage. He explained that the emissions were treated comprehensively through an ammonia scrubber, a biofilter and a carbon scrubber.
In response to a further Member’s question, Ms. S. Allen, Principal Environmental Planning Officer at Shared Environmental Service (SES), provided information in relation to the application’s impact on the nitrogen critical thresholds in the European Designated Sites.
She explained that there was not an indicative nitrogen level for marine systems and that the most comparable would probably be the advisory nitrogen levels for salt marshes, where the threshold was between 20-30kg/ per hectare per annum. She outlined that the background levels of nitrogen were slightly higher than that, and were now 22kg/ per hectare, per annum. However, the Committee was advised that SES’ assessment had been based on the contribution from the project itself, which was 0.9% of the critical load, and, in their view, in view of the nature of the extent of the site, the dilution factor and the nature of the habitat, they were satisfied that 0.9% could not have an adverse effect on the site and that view had been endorsed by the NIEA.
The Divisional Solicitor advised the Committee that, in respect of Mr Maneely’s submission, as it was a different site with different considerations, the issues which were mentioned could not be translated into concerns which would necessarily arise in respect of the application which was in front of the Committee. She echoed the comments made by Mr. Beattie QC, in that the Committee should therefore give very limited weight to the comments made by Mr. Maneely.
A number of Members stated that they felt Mr. Maneely’s contribution was important in that it was his lived experience of living close to a similar facility. Members raised concerns regarding the facility being incompatible with the surrounding uses, including the impact that low frequency noise could have on the nearby film studios.
A Member raised a concern regarding the viability of the project, which, while he acknowledged it was not a material consideration, he felt that Case officers would regularly highlight if a proposal would create a large number of jobs and that, therefore, the viability of a project was in fact a consideration for officers.
A further Member stated that the Council had been clear in its investment in clean tech jobs in the North Foreshore site for a number of years. He stated that the Film Studios were a world class facility and had been built to the highest standard in respect of soundproofing.
A Member stated that the Council was ever evolving and that decisions could and would change over time. He ask whether officers, as part of the Local Development Plan process, had engaged with other stakeholders around the future of waste management facilities within Belfast. In response, the Planning Manager (Policy) confirmed to the Committee that they had engaged with the Department for Infrastructure and the surrounding Councils, and that policies had been created as part of the Draft Plan Strategy which was undergoing examination at present. He stated that the content of the policies were similar to PPS11 but that they would not be adopted as formal policy until the LDP had been formally agreed.
In response to a further question regarding the zoning at the overall site, the Planning Manager (Development Management) reminded the Committee that it had to base its decision on current policy context and that the appropriate adjacent land uses had been taken into consideration by officers during the assessment. He stated that the more sensitive “residential standards” in respect of noise and disturbance had been applied when assessing the impact of the application in relation to the nearby Film Studios and that Environmental Health had confirmed that it was content that there would be no undue conflict.
In response to a further question regarding the Giant’s Park leisure element, he advised the Committee that there was no proposed use for leisure in the zoning of the site. Moreover, irrespective of the fact that there was no technical evidence to state that there would be a conflict of uses on the site, he added that the GPBL proposal was only at PAD stage, that a planning application had not yet been submitted and that it would therefore be unreasonable for the Committee to refuse an application because of a conflict with a proposed use which was not zoned and where planning permission had not yet been applied for.
A further Member raised concerns of the site’s impact on the ammonia and nitrogen levels and the policy context in which the Committee was having to make its decision. She stated that it was concerning that there was no scientific basis for the use of the 1% threshold, and that it was currently under review in order to bring it more into line with the evidence of damage and case law. She stated that it was disappointing that a representative from DAERA had not been in attendance to answer questions on the issue.
The Divisional Solicitor advised the Committee that, while she understood Members’ frustrations at some shortcomings in certain policies, current planning policies must be applied and that significant weight should be attributed to the responses from statutory consultees.
A further Member stated that they had issues with DFI Roads’ response in relation to transport sustainability, whereby it had stated that “at this time there is no policy under which DfI Roads can assess and comment on the sustainability of a proposal at the regional level”. He advised that he felt there was a lot of uncertainty around the proposal.
In response to further Members’ questions, the Divisional Solicitor added that the Clean Neighbourhoods Act (NI) 2011 provided the Council with powers in relation to noise and odour in the form of abatement notices. She added that, if a noise or odour issue was not adequately dealt with by way of an abatement notice, the Council had the power to apply to the High Court for an injunction, restraining the use of the premises until it was satisfied that the issue had been dealt with.
The Chairperson advised the Committee that, if Members were minded to go against the officers’ recommendation to approve the application, a Member could propose a deferral of the application and ask that officers would submit formal refusal reasons based on the issues which had been raised during the discussion to the next meeting. He explained that it would allow the Committee to see the full refusal reasons and that it could then amend them if necessary.
Moved by Councillor Maskey and
Seconded by Councillor McCullough,
That the Committee agrees to defer consideration of the application and asks that officers submit formal reasons for refusal at the next meeting, based on the fact that the application:
· is incompatible with adjacent land uses and is contrary to PPS11 WM1, in that it is incompatible with the character of the surrounding area and adjacent land uses, namely with the adjacent film studios and its expansion and also with the GPBL proposals; and
· that the film studio extension has been built in the zone which was zoned for Waste Management in the Masterplan, and that the waste management element therefore no longer existed.
On a vote, ten Members voted for the proposal, none against and three no votes, and it was accordingly declared carried.