Agenda item


            (Councillor Groogan, having declared an interest in this item, remained in the meeting but did not participate in the vote).


            The Principal Planning officer reminded the Committee that the application had been listed on the agenda for the Special meeting of 27th June but that the Committee had agreed to defer consideration at that meeting to allow a site visit to be undertaken.  The site visit had since taken place, on 5th August. 


            She outlined that Mr. M. McFarlane, on behalf of Bredagh GAC, had since requested the removal of its letter of support for the application.


            The Committee was also advised that Environmental Health had provided additional clarifying comments on their position in relation to noise control.  She explained that Environmental Health still had concerns regarding the potential for noise disturbance due to

patron dispersal from the premises. 


            Environmental Health was not objecting to the application but had provided a number of conditions, including that the restaurant (and bar) should not operate outside 11am to 1am on Fridays and Saturdays and 10am - 11pm from Sunday to Thursday; the submission of a Noise Management Plan, to include the supervision and management of patrons within the premises and outside during patron arrival and dispersal; and music limiting technology installed to ensure a maximum level would not be exceeded.


The Principal Planning officer presented the details of the application to the Committee.  She explained that the site was located within the existing settlement limits of the City, as defined within the BUAP and draft BMAPs and that the buildings on site were Listed.  Planning approval had been granted for an 18 bedroom hotel and licensed restaurant in November 2019 but no works had commenced on site to date.  The key issue which had been considered was the application’s impact on neighbouring amenity due to noise, nuisance and general disturbance.


            The Committee was advised that the site was primarily surrounded by residential dwellings in the Bell Towers and in Fitzwilliam Avenue.  She explained that 21 objections had been received, including three which had been received since the most recent Case officer’s report had been published, and that they all focused on concerns in respect of noise impact and parking issues.


            The Chairperson welcomed Councillor Groogan to address the Committee.  She advised the Committee that she did not believe that the variation application should be approved for the following reasons:


·        it was inappropriate because of the impact on neighbouring amenity due to noise, nuisance and general disturbance;

·        there was no reason why it should be decided any differently than it had been previously, when it was initially assessed and indeed, when an almost identical application to vary was refused less than a year ago (ref:  LA04/2020/1229/F);

·        that variation was deemed to have insufficient evidence that there would be “no additional detriment to neighbouring properties” and had provided no justification for it.  There was very little, if anything, substantially different in the current application, with no additional mitigating measures to justify the change to address any of the concerns around noise;

·        the suggestion of a midnight closing time was based on use by residents of the hotel only, not the general public. As that would be incredibly difficult to enforce in planning terms, it was decided that an 11pm restriction was more appropriate to give some protection to neighbouring residents and that was what the Committee should be basing their decision on - a change from 11pm to 1am;

·        correspondence from the agent, on 3rd November 2021, stated that planning permission had not been implemented to date by the applicant and would not be “unless planning condition no 11 was varied in accordance with the application to make the scheme commercially viable”;

·        any attempt to hold the Council to ransom to try to force it to set aside valid planning concerns, because of unsubstantiated claims around commercial viability, was wrong;

·        no restaurant in the City operated until 1am and the operator had a range of restaurants, including in hotels, which only operated to 10pm;

·        their letter of 1st November referred to functions and it was concerning that events of up to 200 people would be very different to the usual coming and goings from a restaurant; and

·        as Environmental Health had pointed out, it was difficult to effectively mitigate noise from patrons leaving a premises. The only protection residents had was the 11pm restriction, which was in keeping with other similar licensed restaurants in the area, and she urged the Committee not to remove that necessary, reasonable and limited protection.



            The Chairperson then welcomed Councillor McKeown to address the Committee.  He also objected to the application to vary the condition, for the following reasons:


·        the issues regarding operating hours were considered extensively in 2019 when overall the permission was granted. The situation since then had not changed in that it remained a residential area, where any proposed development needed to be in-keeping with its surroundings both in terms of structure and crucially in this case, operation;

·        the noise report provided on behalf of the applicant did not adequately address the potential impact on the nearby community;

·        it noted that the restaurant could facilitate 200 patrons, yet the modelling of how it would impact at street level seemed to involve two people shouting in the vicinity of the front door;

·        aside from the lack of detail around the time the so-called ‘test’ was conducted, it did not represent the true potential impact of patrons egressing from the premises late at night and circulating in the area;

·        staff had no authority or jurisdiction over the conduct of individuals outside the boundary of the premises;

·        there was significant potential for shouting, singing, taxis being hailed and car doors slamming in the street in the residential area late into the night;

·        contrary to what the noise report stated, parking was available along both sides of the Ormeau Road during the evening and all weekend. There was therefore a significant likelihood that people would park on the road and create noise — in fact, there was little incentive to park in the church carpark and walk 120 yards when on-street parking adjacent to residential areas was closer to the premises;

·        there was a lack of precedent for a licensed restaurant opening to 1am in the area and, should the application be approved, it would represent a significant and irreversible departure for the area;

·        it was a settled residential community and extending the hours of opening to 1am at the weekend could have a serious detrimental impact on the wellbeing of residents and would cause stress to those affected.


The Chairperson welcomed Mr. M. Morgan and Ms. C. Gallagher to the meeting, who were representing residents of the Bell Towers and Fitzwilliam Avenue, and were both objecting to the application.  Together they advised the Committee that:


·        the site was entirely surrounded by residential properties;

·        the Committee had reached the correct and proportionate decision in 2019 when it limited the operating hours of the bar to 11pm;

·        nothing significant had changed since that time;

·        adding 60mm to the width of the windows did not cater for the dispersal of patrons from the venue;

·        despite the applicant stating that it was “a good neighbour”, there had been no correspondence or engagement with or from the applicant and the residents of the Bell Towers or of Fitzwilliam Avenue;

·        residents were entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their premises; and

·        people do not go out to eat at 11pm in Belfast, rather, they go out to drink, and residents were extremely concerned at the consequences of allowing the premises to operate with up to 200 people until 1am, similar to a nightclub.


The Chairperson then welcomed Mr. C. Shanks, agent, Mr. T. O’Neill, Galgorm Group, and Mr. S. Carr, Irwin Carr, who were representing the applicant and agent.  Together they advised the Committee that:


·        the Galgorm Collection wished to invest £8million in giving new life to the listed former Holy Rosary Church and Parochial Hall;

·        it wished to ensure that reasonable, fair trading hours were in place at the site before it committed its £8million investment on the Ormeau Road;

·        they were a renowned hospitality operator in NI with a reputation for the highest quality of service offer and product across their existing hotels at Galgorm hotel and spa in Ballymena, the Rabbit in Templepatrick and the Old Crawfordsburn Inn;

·        the condition on the original planning permission placed an unfair and unreasonable restriction on the operating hours of the hotel’s bar/restaurant to 11pm. That did not allow for a sustainable, viable or fair hotel trading environment when compared with existing hotel operators in the wider Belfast market;

·        its proposed variation to the hours of operation condition originally sought permission to extend from 11pm to 1am seven days a week, which represented a level playing field with other hotels they would compete with for business;

·        they fully understood the concerns on breakout noise and parking raised by local residents and, with its advisors, had taken all possible steps to work closely with Environmental Health (EH) and to put all appropriate mitigation in place that would enable the proposed new hotel to successfully and harmoniously co-exist with its neighbours. It was not something new to them having achieved such harmony in managing its other properties adjacent to dwellings in Templepatrick and Crawfordsburn;

·        in seeking to respond to the concerns, the applicant had voluntarily reduced the request to midnight on Sunday to Thursday, and to 1am on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays;

·        it would manage the new hotel in accordance with a stringent Noise Management Plan that had been formulated closely with EH to specifically seek to avoid the suggested amenity concerns around noise expressed by local residents, through robust management of the facility;

·        in considering the parent planning permission for the site, EH had accepted that opening hours to midnight throughout the working week were acceptable, however, the planners reduced the conditioned opening hours to 11pm contrary to EH officer advice;



·        the current EH advice confirmed that extending to 1am on Fridays and Saturdays was acceptable, subject to compliance with the noise management plan. That was a welcome change in position and reflected the hard work and additional mitigation put in place by the applicant. It also confirmed that midnight on a Sunday was acceptable;

·        the applicant had already made a very substantial concession in accepting midnight Monday-Thursday rather than seeking an unrestricted 1am operational opening time consistently in place at all other hotel operators in Belfast and elsewhere in NI;

·        the nearby Parador hotel had seating for 30-40 persons outside its bar on the pavement to the Ormeau Road, opposite residential property and with terraced family housing to the rear in Florenceville Avenue. It operated with no restrictions on its opening times;

·        the application in front of the Committee, in contrast, had no external seating area, it would ensure there could be no public entry to the facility an hour before closing time, it would operate in accordance with a strenuous Noise Management Plan to manage and limit external breakout noise, it would ensure a supervised and managed patron exit from the bar/restaurant and it would deliver off-street parking area for patrons away from residential properties; and

·        by approving the application to vary the condition, it would breathe new life into a listed building at risk, bring £150,000 in rates to the Council, and wider transformational and beneficial change for the site and the wider Ormeau and South Belfast area.


A Member asked Mr. S. Carr for clarification in respect of the noise modelling which had been carried out, whereby 2 persons positioned in the vicinity of the door “shouted loudly”, and how that was suitable given the venue’s maximum capacity was for 200 persons.  Mr. Carr advised the Committee that, in respect of patrons leaving a premises, they had tried to establish a worst case scenario and that they had set the noise limit at 80 decibels (dB) which had been used at a number of other premises in the vicinity.  However, when they had spoken to Environmental Health, they had increased the limit to 90 dB.  He explained that there were a number of incidents on the Ormeau Road and they were able to show that the noise limits of patrons leaving the premises would not be exceeded. 


Mr Shanks added that they had spent two years demonstrating to Environmental Health that there was not going to be an issue at the site and that it was Environmental Health which had a statutory responsibility to advise the Committee to ensure that there would not be any harm to amenity.  He added that the 90 dB limit was far higher than the level that the nearby bar, the Errigle, had been subject to for its outdoor area.


The Chairperson welcomed Ms. M. Quinn, Environmental Health officer, to the meeting.  She advised the Committee that their lengthy response had concluded that, while, in theory, you could manage noise from patrons, what happened in practice was down to how responsibly things were managed.  She explained that they felt that extending the hours over the entire week would be a step too far and that it was difficult to predict or know how the premises would have any remit over patrons as they dispersed from the immediate vicinity of the site.


In response to a Member’s question, she acknowledged that the premises could change ownership and that it was very difficult to predict patron dispersal noise as there was a lack of guidance on the subject and that potential scenarios could be missed.  She added that excessive noise from patrons who had left the premises and were, for example, on the street, was not within the remit of Council noise officers and that was a matter for the police. 


Mr. Shanks advised the Committee, in response to comments which had been made, that there was nothing to suggest that the Galgorm Group had any intention of selling the site.  He added that the Noise Management Plan was comprehensive in addressing the dispersal of patrons and that, as a renowned hospitality operator, they would not allow 200 patrons to disperse onto the Ormeau Road en masse.  He also clarified that no public admittance would be permitted one hour before closing time.


A Member requested information from officers in relation to the viability of the application.  The Principal Planning officer clarified that viability was a material consideration but that the applicant had not submitted any documentation in respect of that and therefore officers had not assessed it.  However, she explained that, regardless if it came down to issues of viability, there was still a responsibility through planning policy to protect amenity.  The Members were advised that it was difficult and that consideration had been made primarily on the basis of amenity, whilst accounting for the fact that approval had previously been granted for the renovation of the listed building.


A Member queried why speakers were being brought back in to make further contributions after they had already spoken.  The City Solicitor clarified that the Committee’s Operating Protocol provided that the objectors were entitled to rebut any factual inaccuracies, followed by the applicant/agent who was then entitled to do the same.  She added that the applications under discussion at that meeting in particular had involved particularly technical discussions but that the Protocol would be reviewed by the Committee in due course.


            Moved by Councillor Garrett

            Seconded by Councillor Maskey,


   That the Committee agrees to refuse the application for the variation of Condition 11 of planning approval LA04/2018/0059/F, relating to operating hours, in order to protect the residents against adverse noise impact.


            On a vote, six Members voted for the proposal and six against.  As there was an equality of votes the Chairperson exercised his second and casting vote in favour of the proposal and it was accordingly declared carried.


(The Meeting adjourned for 10 minutes at this point)


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