(The Chairperson (Councillor Whyte), Deputy Chairperson (Councillor Maskey)
and Councillor Groogan, having declared an interest in the item,
left the meeting while the item was under consideration.)
(Councillor Hanvey in the Chair.)
The Planning Manager (Development Management) explained that the application had previously been considered by the Committee at its meeting on 27th June 2022, where it had resolved to approve the application and granted delegated authority to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of the conditions. However, no decision notice had been issued and, following advice from Legal Services, the application was being returned to the Committee to allow the objectors a further opportunity to address it before a decision was taken.
The Committee was advised that, in accordance with the Council’s standard operating practice, those who wished to address the Committee must provide their consent to being recorded before they received the appropriate link. In advance of the meeting in June, the objector’s solicitor had consented and was provided with the appropriate link. However, the additional speakers had requested to speak just shortly before the meeting started but had not provided their consent to be recorded. Once the objectors had provided their consent, the link was immediately issued so that they could join the meeting. Whilst the objectors were able to present to Committee with their solicitor, it was clear that there was some confusion. Therefore, in order to avoid any suggestion of procedural unfairness, it was considered appropriate to allow a further opportunity to the objectors to address the Committee.
The objectors had also expressed concern that the Late items report had not been made available to them. The Committee was advised that, for the purposes of completeness, a copy of the relevant extract had been appended to the Case officer’s report.
The Planning Manager explained that the application had also been considered by the Committee in September 2021, where it had agreed to grant permission with delegated authority given to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of conditions. He explained that that decision had been subject to Judicial Review and that the Council had conceded on the single point of its application of the BUAP 2001, and that the decision had therefore been quashed.
The Committee therefore had a new case officer report following a further site visit and a fresh assessment of the application for consideration.
The Planning Manager advised the Committee that, since publication of the Case officer’s report, further correspondence had been received from Take Back the City (TBTC) in objection to the application. They had referred to their City of the Future event which sought to showcase potential ways forward for the former Mackie’s site and highlighted the acute housing need in the area. It urged the Committee to refuse the application as it wanted to see a more sustainable, equitable and forward-looking application for the site. It reiterated its previous concerns about re-zoning the site, that it was against planning policy and was premature in the context of the ongoing LDP process. TBTC advised the Committee that it had a number of choices in respect of the application, including that it could refuse the application and to engage with them further; request that only the minimum amount of land required to deliver the greenway be re-zoned leaving other options on the table; vote to defer the application to enable further engagement with them; and abstain from voting on the application.
The Planning Manager explained that the issues raised around zoning and prematurity had been addressed within the original Committee report published in June and that the application, if granted, would not preclude an application for housing being brought forward in the future. He added that the Committee must determine the application before it based on its merits.
He outlined the application which sought full planning permission for parkland, which included foot and cycle pathways, lighting columns, new entrances and street furniture. He added that the proposal formed Section 2 of the wider Forthmeadow Community Greenway, a 12km route that provided connectivity through the west and north of the city.
He outlined the physical constraints of the project, whereby a large part of the site was physically constrained as there was a steep ravine from the river up to the edge of the site and a narrow plateau, which formed the central part of the site. He added that parts of the site were undulating and that excavations would be required.
He informed the Committee that the proposal was contrary to Policy IND 6 of the BUAP, in that the lands had been zoned for industrial and commercial use, and that the proposal was not an economic development use listed in the policy. However, he added that the proposal had been considered as consistent with Policy IND 5 of the BUAP, which sought to encourage environmental improvement of industrial estates. It was contrary to the employment zonings in dBMAP, however, it had been considered as consistent with the Key Site Requirement for retention of landscaping on the western boundary and supplemented trees and planting.
He pointed out to the Committee that the Strategic Planning Policy Statement did not apply to the site as not all elements within the zone land were equally developable and that large parts of the site were not considered to be well located or suited for economic development purposes.
The Planning Manager reported that the proposal was contrary to Policy PED 7 of PPS 4 and that the Planning Advice Note to PPS 4 accepted that there could be special circumstances in which a departure from the development plan zoning could be acceptable, however, those special circumstances were not defined and that officers had advised that there were a number of special circumstances that the Committee should consider, in that the proposal:
· was consistent with the aims of Policy IND 5 of BUAP;
· was consistent with the Key Site Requirements in dBMAP in relation to landscaping;
· involved land which had significant physical restraints;
· that there was a significant oversupply of employment space in the area;
· was a key component of the wider Forthmeadow Community Greenway; and
· would enable safe, easy and accessible ‘re-connections’ between historically segregated neighbourhoods
He advised the Members that it was acknowledged that there was a policy presumption, both regionally and locally, against the loss of employment land. However, that was not an un-challengeable presumption and Policy was not a straitjacket. He outlined that it was possible to set aside those policies and the employment zonings in the various plans where material considerations indicated otherwise.
He explained that employment zoning would remain and that the development would not preclude future development of the application site for employment or housing and that the proposed greenway had been considered as well suited, given the site’s physical constraints for built development, and that funding was in place to establish a greenway in the location.
The Committee was advised that it was recommended that planning permission be granted, with delegated authority for the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of conditions.
The Chairperson welcomed Ms. M. McMahon and Ms. C. Trew, objectors from Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), to the meeting. Ms. McMahon advised the Committee that:
· the previous week, the Take Back the City (TBTC) coalition, comprising homeless families, architects, planners and experts, had held a two day event as part of Féile an Phobail, and which had been attended by more than 200 people to hear from a few of the 60 architects from across six continents which had been developing the vision of homeless families to create a self-managed community at the former Mackie’s site;
· the plans from those architects would be available to the public from 30th September 2022;
· the plans incorporated a vision of integrating housing, business opportunities and a greenway into the area with the highest housing need in NI;
· the Chief Commissioner of the NI Human Rights Commission was one the keynote speakers at the event and she had said that there were “very few rights worth having without a stable place to call your own”;
· there were 4,805 families with Full Duty Applicant (FDA) status in North and West Belfast;
· over 4,400 children were living in hostels, sofa surfing or in cramped single lets;
· the plans in front of the Committee siphoned off a huge area of land not required for a greenway;
· the plans went against planning policy which protected the zoning of land to the second stage of the Local Development Plan (LDP) Local Policies Plan phase and ran the risk of prematurity;
· she queried why over 7,500 FDA families had had no place within the LDP, for the 32,000 new homes in the city and the 100,000 homes across NI;
· she suggested that the Committee could instruct officials to engage with TBTC and to re-zone only the minimum amount of land required for the greenway; to defer the application in order to engage with the vision of the 60 architects who had seen the potential for around 950 homes on the site, meeting a third of the current need; or to abstain and not participate in a “process marked out by unlawful, unfair processes and exclusionary politics”.
A Member stated that there was merit in what the objectors had said and felt that the Committee should reject the application as it was contrary to policy IND6 of BUAP, the employment zonings of BMAP and to SPSS, PPS 4 and policy PED 7. However, no other Member indicated that they would second such a proposal.
Moved by The High Sheriff (Councillor Hussey)
Seconded by Councillor Spratt,
That the Committee approves the application and grants delegated authority to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of the conditions.
On a vote, ten Members voted for the proposal and one against and it was accordingly declared carried.