The Planning Manager provided the Committee with an overview of the application and highlighted the following key issues for consideration in the assessment of the application:
· The principle of the proposed residential use at this location;
· Loss of employment land last used as industrial;
· Loss of retail land within the designated Westwood District Centre;
· Compatibility of housing with adjacent uses;
· Design and layout;
· Housing need;
· Access, parking and traffic management; and
· Other environmental considerations – Drainage, Contamination, Noise, Impact on Designated Sites/Natural Heritage Assets.
He explained that the application site was located in an industrial/employment and commercial area, adjacent to two shopping centres and the surrounding lands were all in non-residential use. He stated that officers considered that the introduction of a residential development in the area would not be compatible with the existing surroundings and that the development could adversely impact the existing businesses in the area which would benefit from permitted development rights to expand or change their current Use Class.
He pointed out that the site was zoned as a Major Area of exiting Employment/Industry in the draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (dBMAP) (v2004) and in dBMAP (v2014) it had been designated as part of the Westwood District Centre following an extension to the Westwood Centre and, whilst the zoning of the site had changed between the draft plans, a residential use on the site would not comply with either version of dBMAP.
The Planning Manager informed the Committee that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) had confirmed that there was a need for affordable housing in the area which was a material consideration, however, officers did not consider the housing need sufficient to override the serious concerns about the appropriateness of the site for housing, and that the Senior Urban Design Officer had raised concern with regard to the suitability of the proposal, that included the outlook from the proposed units, pedestrian routes through the site and linear parking areas.
He highlighted that NI Water had objected to the application on grounds of insufficient wastewater treatment capacity and foul sewage network capacity issues and that the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) had concerns regarding foul sewage arrangements.
He reported that, having had regard to the development plan, relevant policy context and other material considerations, the proposed development was not considered to be acceptable and it was recommended that full planning permission be refused for the following reasons:
· The proposed development was located within a designated District Centre as identified in the draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015 (v2014). The proposal would reduce the land available within the District Centre to deliver retail and other appropriate commercial uses and would fail to retain and consolidate the District Centre as a focus for local everyday shopping. The proposal was contrary to paragraph 6.276 of the SPPS and Designation BT010/5 – Westwood Centre of the draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015 (v2014);
· The application site was surrounded by existing commercial uses and businesses, many of which are not subject to restrictions on hours of operation or other controls. The proposed housing would be a poor-quality living environment for residents who would be subject to unacceptable noise and environmental impacts, both from within the houses/apartments and the outdoor amenity space/open space. The application fails to demonstrate that the noise levels would be satisfactory. The site was not considered suitable for any form of housing and the proposal was contrary to paragraphs 4.11, 4.25-27 and 4.34 of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement, Policy PED 8 of Planning Policy Statement 4, and criteria (a) and (h) of Policy QD 1 of Planning Policy Statement 7 – Quality Residential Environments;
· The application site was surrounded by existing commercial uses and businesses, many of which were not subject to restrictions on hours of operation or other controls. The proposed development had the potential to adversely affect the operations and viability of existing surrounding commercial uses and businesses and generally compromise the ability of the industrial estate to provide employment and economic growth. The proposal was contrary to paragraphs 4.20 – 4.21 of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement and Policy PED 8 of Planning Policy Statement 4;
· The proposed development would be located on an existing commercial/industrial park, resulting in poor place making and an unsuitable residential living environment. Specifically, access to the development would be through an incongruous industrial estate/commercial park. Secondly, the proposed development would provide a poor quality residential environment for prospective occupants by reason of poor outlook from Blocks A, B, C and D onto the existing commercial and industrial/employment area. Thirdly, the overbearing impact of the retaining wall and embankment onto the dwellings and rear gardens numbered 77-83 and 86 on Drawing No. 04A – Site Layout. Fourthly, the overbearing nature of the Westwood Shopping Centre/ASDA on apartments within Block A and the dwellings and rear gardens numbered 70-76 on Drawing No. 4A – Site Layout. The proposal was contrary to paragraphs 4.12, 4.25-27 and 4.34 of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement and criteria (a) and (h) of Policy QD1 of Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 7 – Quality Residential Environments . and Policy PED 8 of Planning Policy Statement 4, and unacceptable;
· The proposal failed to provide adequate connectivity to surrounding amenities and would result in an isolated housing development within an existing commercial and industrial/employment area and encourage use of an unsafe informal link to the Kennedy Centre. The proposal was contrary to paragraphs 4.12 and 4.24-27 of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement and criteria (e) of Policy QD 1 of Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 7 – Quality Residential Environments; and
· The application was not accompanied by a Section 76 planning agreement to secure the Green Travel Measures (Travel Plan, Travel Cards for each unit for a 3 year period, Discounted Membership of a Car Club), Employability and Skills interventions, long term management and maintenance of private communal and public open space areas which would be required to manage and mitigate the development. The proposal was contrary to paragraph 5.69 of the SPPS, Policy AMP 7 of Planning Policy Statement 3, Policy OS 2 of Planning Policy Statement 8 and Chapter 9 of the Developer Contributions Framework.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr. P. Stinson, Turley, Mr. H. McConnell, RRP Architects, and Mr. J. Mangan, RSK Group, representing the applicant, and Ms. F. McGrath, representing the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) to the meeting.
Mr. Stinson explained to the Committee that the NIHE consultation response confirmed that there was alive and pressing need of 899 social homes in the site area up to 2026, despite recent permissions granted of around 800 social homes at the former Visteon site and Glenmona.
He informed the Members that the applicant had been in discussions with four housing associations and that securing planning permission would ensure confirmation of an association to deliver the homes.
He highlighted that, whilst a retail permission exists for the site for the reconfiguration and extension of the Westwood Centre, the previous employment use of the land had been lost and that conditions considered necessary to control the noise environment for the proposed homes would be met in the event that planning permission would be granted. He stated that the ability of existing business to evolve was limited and that the Council had significant control over future land use changes at the site.
He stated that future applications would be considered in light of prevailing circumstances and that, whilst changes could occur to operating hours of existing business, consideration should be given to how likely that would be, in light of the established nature of the businesses.
He pointed out that just one objection had been received to the planning application and that one person had attended a consultation webinar and that this demonstrated, given the number of businesses surrounding the site, a lack of significant evidence of incompatibility.
Mr. Stinson outlined the layout, outlook, parking, road safety, access and landscaping design aspects of the application and stated that the applicant was willing to enter a Section 76 agreement that would include green travel measures, a landscape management plan and securement of the housing tenure.
He concluded by informing the Committee that the application would bring much needed social housing to an area with significant housing stress and a continuing level of need and that the development would meet criteria 8 and 9 of Policy QD1.
In response to a question from a Member with regard to the composition of the proposal of 80% social housing, and what the remaining 20% would account for, Mr. Stinson explained that it would be a development of social and private homes and would be determined by the final social housing requirement.
Ms. M. Quinn, Environmental Health Officer, answered questions from the Members with regard to smell, noise, emissions and the vermin impact of the surrounding businesses and she explained that a recommendation of upgrading glazing had been recommended to deal with potential 24-hour operations of adjacent businesses and low frequency noise levels which had been identified but that uncertainty remained as to whether glazing manufacturers could provide the required glazing. She added that Environmental Health did not have any concerns with regard to the impact of smell or odour around the site, and she added that all surrounding business premises were required to have pest control contracts in place and therefore would have been raised as a significant issue by environmental health. Mr. J. Mangan also addressed the Committee in response to the aforementioned concerns and stated that a series of noise surveys had been undertaken on the site to quantify the baseline noise levels which had highlighted some noise levels of concern and had set a performance requirement for the internal façade of the proposed units to ensure that internal noise levels would be appropriate.
In response to a question from a Member, Ms. F McGrath stated that the NIHE was in favour a mix of social and private tenure on the proposed site and supported the application.
Following further discussion, it was:
Moved by Councillor Garrett,
Seconded by Councillor Maskey,
"That the Committee agrees to approve the application as it supports the aspirations of this Council through the adoption of the Local Development Plan (LDP) to increase the level of housing, including social and affordable housing in the City.
The application has gone some way to mitigate and address other material considerations relating to compatibility of housing with adjacent uses, design and layout, and Housing need;
Therefore, on balance this application is considered acceptable and shall be approved with delegated authority given to officers to negotiate a suitable section 76 agreement."
Councillor Garrett, the proposer, accepted a suggestion from the Director of Planning and Building Control to include in his proposal - that the approval would be subject to conditions and a Section 76 planning agreement to secure the necessary planning obligations; and include the requirement that the development consists of at least 80% social housing; and to delegate authority to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of the conditions and Section 76 planning agreement, as well as resolve the technical highways issue which had been raised by DFI Roads.
The proposal, as amended, was put the Committee and on a vote, nine Members voted for the proposal and four against and it was declared carried.