The Principal Planning officer outlined the details of the application to the Committee.
He drew the Members’ attention to the Late Items pack, whereby a late objection had been received. The objection had stated that the proposal failed to address need. However, the Planning officer explained that the principle of the development had been firmly established through the earlier planning permissions. The objection also referred to Building Control and fire safety issues which were not planning matters. Amenity issues were also raised and had been addressed within the Case officer’s report.
The key issues which had been considered during the assessment of the proposed development included the:
· principle of redevelopment;
· principle of Student Accommodation;
· principle of proposed ‘out of term’ accommodation;
· principle of a Leisure Complex at the location;
· scale, massing and design;
· open space provision;
· traffic and parking;
· impact on amenity;
· drainage and flooding;
· waste management;
· pre-application community consultation; and
· developer contributions.
The Principal Planning officer reported that the principle of Managed Student Accommodation had been established on the site through the extant approval LA04/2016/1252/F. The scale and massing of the scheme were virtually identical with the extant permission, with the main difference being the introduction of an internally located, purpose-built leisure facility located where the external courtyards were previously approved.
The overall level of amenity provision was slightly less than previously approved, however, that was outweighed by the quality of the recreational facilities on offer, and the elevated roof terrace which would experience less overshadowing than the approved courtyard. Although located adjacent to the existing student accommodation block, given the orientation of the buildings, it was not anticipated that the internal leisure complex would impact significantly on amenity or enjoyment of the outdoor spaces, in what were already enclosed, north facing courtyards.
The Committee was advised that the design, although altered, retained the character of the previous approval, with finishes in keeping with the area and adjacent buildings. The site was ideally located to serve both Queen’s University and the newly constructed Ulster University complex.
The Principal Planning officer advised the Committee that DFI Roads, DAERA and Environmental Health had been consulted and were content with the proposals, subject to conditions. Rivers Agency, Belfast City Airport, Building Control and Shared Environmental Services had no objections to the proposals. The Divisional solicitor reminded the Members that a late objection had been received, as highlighted within the Late Items pack.
He outlined that, if the Committee was to approve the application, officers recommended that it would be subject to conditions and a Section 76 Planning Agreement to secure the management of the student accommodation, controlling the use as out-of-term accommodation, controlling the use of the proposed leisure facilities and to secure community apprenticeships.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr. P. Stinson (agent), Mr. N. Howells (on behalf of the applicant) and Mr. S. Deans (project architect) to the meeting.
Mr. Stinson advised the Committee that:
· the proposals involved the repurposing of the extant permission to include the development of an integrated, high quality recreational facility which would support the prospective residents of the building and the wider student community associated with Ulster University’s new campus;
· it represented an additional investment of £5m in the project;
· they had worked with the planning officers through the pre- application discussion process to develop the proposals which had enabled the application to be brought before the Committee in 5 months, supporting their ambition to have the new spaces open in 2024;
· the building would be operated and managed by Student Roost, which had been operating in Belfast since 2018. It currently managed 1634 bed spaces in the city. It had a proven track record for providing high quality, managed accommodation to support students across the UK;
· the proposals had no increase in the number of student beds that were granted by the Council in 2017;
· the proposed recreational facility was centrally located and was an integral part of the building. It would deliver an active and attractive area of high quality external amenity space, allowing for informal recreation;
· the internal facilities included a multi-purpose sports hall, a wellness room, a multi activity space as well as a gym and workout space;
· the recreational facilities had been designed in consultation with the Head of Sport for Ulster University and the University’s Student Life Director. It addressed their need for a dedicated space for their student population and their 78 affiliate sports clubs;
· it fitted within the University’s Active Campus strategy which, at its core, was the vision for students to be ‘More Active More Often’;
· the external space had been refined, following feedback from planning officers, to ensure that it sat sympathetically within the courtyard space;
· a dedicated internal amenity space was also included for use solely by the student residents of the building;
· the proposed development had been noted to offer 1980square metres of internal and external communal space, in so far as it related to the student accommodation portion of the development and suggested a shortfall of 160square metres from the previous permission. The average space per unit provided in the previous permission also fell below the level identified in Creating Places. However, the shared recreational facility was intrinsically linked to the student accommodation and each resident would have access to the spaces created, providing 1400square metres of space; and
· finally, the proposals included the use of the accommodation for patrons associated with further and higher education facilities outside of term time, delivering accommodation that would cater specifically for the needs of the university when, for example, catering for sports teams attending university events, external lecture series or conferencing at the new campus, therefore adding to the vitality of the area and providing year round activity.
A Member suggested that the sports facilities should be open for use by the wider community. Mr. Stinson confirmed to the Committee that the sports facilities were for use solely by patrons associated with further and higher education and that there were other facilities in close proximity of the site for public use.
A further Member suggested that a workshop could perhaps take place on the wider issue of the scale of student housing in that area of the city in the context of place-making.
After discussion, the Committee approved the application and granted delegated authority to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of the conditions and the Section 76 Planning Agreement.