The Committee was provided with the key aspects of the outline application.
The Senior Planning officer explained that the details of scale and massing were to be determined at the outline stage, with siting, design, external appearance, access and landscaping being reserved for subsequent approval. She advised that, despite those matters being reserved, an indicative scheme had been submitted to help
demonstrate that those could be safely achieved.
She outlined that the site was within the development limits and within the city centre of Belfast in BUAP and both versions of Draft BMAP. The site was un-zoned whiteland within BUAP, unzoned whitelandbut also within the main office area/Commercial District Character Area in dBMAP (2004); and was zoned for Uncommitted Housing under CC04/01. It was also within the Commercial District Character Area in dBMAP (2015) and within the Linen Conservation Area.
The Committee was advised that, having regard to the location of the site and its surrounding context which included a number of tall buildings, it was considered that the site could accommodate a building of the scale and massing proposed, in keeping with the character and appearance of the area.
The Senior Planning officer outlined that consultees, including DfI Roads, NIEA, Historic Environment Division, NI Water, DfI Rivers, the Council’s Landscape Team, Environmental Health Department and Economic Development team had no objection to the proposal, subject to conditions.
She explained that the applicant had proposed provision of the following Green Travel Measures to mitigate the lack of parking provided with the scheme:
1. Membership of a bike scheme such as Belfast Bikes for 3 years;
2. a 3-year Residential Travel Card scheme;
3. 50% subsidy of Car Club membership; and
4. a Residential Travel Plan
The measures would be secured through a Section 76 Planning Agreement and were considered appropriate given the highly sustainable location of the site and its proximity to numerous transport links.
The Committee was advised that the Council’s Economic Development Team had no objection to the proposal, subject to a Section 76 clause regarding Employability and Skills for the construction phase.
The Senior Planning officer explained that the Conservation Officer had raised concerns about the proposal. The Conservation officer had stated that, in terms of a hierarchy of heights, Holmes Street would ideally be subservient to Bruce Street. The Conservation officer had also expressed concern regarding the indicative ground floor use (residential and storage/plant) having a deadening effect on the frontage. The Senior Planning officer advised the Committee that that issue had been discussed with the applicant and agent. The argument put forward was that, due to its cul de sac location, retail or commercial use would not be viable and that office use would not contribute any more than residential would in terms of vibrancy. Given the small footprint of the site and unusual circumstances of the city centre cul de sac, that was considered appropriate. She highlighted that the precise detail of the ground floor and activation of the street were matters for subsequent approval.
The NI Housing Executive had advised that there was a social housing need within the area.
In response to a Member’s question, the Senior Planning officer advised the Committee that there wasn’t any vehicle to request social housing at the reserved matters stage. There was also nothing to preclude the applicant from bringing any forward at that point but, were social housing to be required, it would need to be part of the outline permission, however, a legal agreement could not be requested by officers to ensure that, given that there was no policy provision to do so.
In response to a further Member’s query, she clarified that the maximum scale, height and massing of the proposed building were established as part of the outline permission.
The Planning Manager (Development Management) advised the Committee that three late objections had been submitted in respect of the application. A city centre resident was concerned about the potential for short term/AirBnB lets. He explained that the issue generally fell outside the planning process and that such lets required certification from the Tourist Board.
Further objections had been received from the Belfast Civic Trust which had raised concerns about the proposed height and dominance of the building and he advised the Committee that those issues had been covered within the Case officer’s report and that the officer’s recommendation remained as an approval.
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 completion of a Section 76 Planning Agreement to secure a developer contribution towards Employability and Skills during the construction phase of the development.