The Senior Planning Officer outlined the application for the erection of a Purpose Built Managed Student Accommodation (PBMSA) development on lands bounded by Library Street, Stephen Street, Little Donegall Street and Union Street. He highlighted the following key issues:
• Principle of development;
• Principle of Student Accommodation;
• Principle of proposed ‘out of term’ accommodation;
• Principle of ground floor café and retail units;
• Impact on Built Heritage;
• Scale, Massing and Design;
• Open Space Provision;
• Trees and Landscaping;
• Traffic and Parking;
• Impact on Amenity;
• Impact on Air Quality;
• Drainage and Flooding;
• Waste Management;
• Other Environmental Matters;
• Impact on Protected Sites;
• Pre-application Community Consultation; and
• Developer Contributions.
He pointed out that since the initial report had been completed, a third party objection had been received and he explained the officers’ response to the following areas of concern:
• Need for further student accommodation in an area where student accommodation was plentiful;
• No real benefits to the local community and noise pollution experienced from neighbouring Alma Place PBMSA (Library Street); and
• Reduction of light to adjacent ‘Factory Building’ (apartments) and resulting loss of sunlight.
He outlined the consultations responses which had been received from the Council’s Urban Design Officer, Shared Environmental Services, DfI Roads and the City and Regeneration Team. He added that further supporting and technical information had also been received from the Planning Agent in response to DfI River’s queries in relation to storm water and allowance for urban expansion and climate change in drainage modelling.
The Senior Planning Officer reported that it was recommended that the application be approved subject to conditions and the completion of an agreement under Section 76 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 in respect of developer contributions, for the undernoted reasons:
• The development would contribute towards regeneration of entire city centre block;
• Creation of an internal landscaped courtyard;
• No adverse impact on built heritage;
• Need adequately demonstrated;
• Buildings step down in scale towards more domestic scale of Carrick Hill; and
• Four third party objections and one letter of support.
The Chairperson welcomed Ms. C. Ní Chuilín MLA and Mr. F. Dempsey, of Carrick Hill Residents’ Association to the meeting.
Ms. Ní Chuilín stated that there was supposed to be 66 family homes developed in Nelson Street which had been subsequently designated to student accommodation, she added that Frederick Street Car Park had been considered for family homes and had been now designated as a car park for the university which had not alleviated the student carparking in residential streets.
She further pointed out other sites within the area which had been designated as student accommodation and stated that she believed that the application was not compatible with the Inner North West Masterplan.
She explained that she had been campaigning for regeneration in the area for a long time, but for buildings which were sympathetic to existing buildings and addressed the almost 3000 people living in housing stress which should be a material consideration as part of the planning application.
Mr. Dempsey stated that he felt the local residents had informed the developers during consultation and engagement that they were totally opposed to the development due to the detrimental effect it would have on the local community.
He outlined previous development plans for the area that the local residents had successfully campaigned against, and he asked the Committee to reject the application to benefit the local community.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr. P. Stinson of Turley and Mr. C. Deazley, of Like Architects, attending on behalf of the applicant, to the meeting.
Mr. Stinson stated that, contrary to a press article released in advance of the previous meeting of the Committee, he recognised that planning permission had not been granted and could only happen with the endorsement of the Committee and added that he had corrected the record with the reporter.
He explained that he had been involved with the site for many years and appreciated the sensitivities associated with how it fits with its neighbours. He outlined the consultation and engagement had been undertaken with local residents and understood their concern, and that the approach to the design had been as sensitive as possible, particularly to avoid prejudicing future development of adjoining sites which were of importance to the local community.
He stated that the applicant’s ambition was to have new bed spaces available for the start of the academic year in 2026 and that the Council had heard directly from the local universities that there was a continuing need for managed student accommodation in the city to support their current student numbers and aspirations for future growth.
He explained that the site was currently a surface level car park and was an opportunity site in draft BMAP and the Inner North West Masterplan, not zoned for any particular use, and that the masterplan referred to underutilised sites as key to the regeneration of the area and it supported densification.
He added that the site had been identified in the Belfast HMO Subject Plan as a Development Node which stated that planning permission would be granted for this type of development in such locations, and that the subject plan identified that PBMSA could meet any ongoing requirement for student accommodation.
He outlined the fundamental principles of the design which had been informed by a detailed analysis of the historic and evolving context in this part of the city centre and how it aligned with the Inner North West Masterplan and pointed out that the Council’s Urban Design Officer and HED had offered no objection to the development.
He highlighted that, as was the case for most other student developments in the city centre, there was no proposed car parking, with secure cycle parking provision for 128 bicycles, and that the building had been designed to provide accessibility for all.
He concluded by stating that the development would bring much needed student accommodation within an HMO node, that would support the continued growth of student numbers in higher education and support the regeneration of the area, and that the design responded sensitively to its historic context and related sympathetically to existing and future development in the area in terms of its scale, form, massing and design.
The Chairperson thanked the attendees for their representations and asked the Members if they had any questions.
In response to a question from a Member regarding consideration given to the Inner North West Masterplan, Mr. Stinson explained that it had been considered and that the scheme had been amended to ensure that the proposal was compatible, however, the Member disputed this, stating that the proposal would overshadow and dominate any future residential development on Stephen Street Car Park and that the City Regeneration Team had raised concern with the development of the wider masterplan and not just height, scale and massing.
A number of Members raised concern with regard to the weighting of the Inner North West Masterplan, the concentration of student accommodation in one part of the city, accessibility, parking and the impact of the proposal on the local community.
The Senior Planning Officer explained that, given the accumulative nature of the number of students residing in the city centre, and the impact on the local community and amenities, that officers had considered in their assessment, the management plans secured through a Section 76 Agreement, to control the students within the site and the local vicinities.
The Planning Manager stated that the officer assessment had been conducted using a suite of relevant planning policies, that the appropriate weighting had been given to each of the policies, and that much greater weighting should be given to the statutory HMO Subject Plan in line with Section 6(4) of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2015.
Moved by Councillor Murphy,
Seconded by Councillor Maskey,
“That the Committee refuse to grant planning permission for the application, with the detailed wording for the reasons for refusal to be set out by officers at its next meeting. The reasons for refusal to include the application’s non-compliance with the Inner North West Masterplan.”
The proposer agreed, at the request of Councillor Groogan, to the following additions to be included in the reasons for refusal:
“Contravention of Policies QD1 of PPS7 and OS2 of PPS8, and Policy BH11 of PPS6 in view of the response from DfC HED.”
Councillor Hanvey declared that he would abstain from voting as he felt that his role and mandate as a Councillor had not been respected by the Chairperson.
The proposal, as amended, was put to the Committee and, on a recorded vote, seven Members voted for, four against and one no vote and it was declared carried.
No Vote 1
Councillor Whyte (Chairperson); and
Councillors Carson, Matt Collin, Garrett, Groogan, Maskey and Murphy.
Alderman Rodgers; and
Councillors Douglas, Hutchinson and Spratt.