Agenda item


            The Planning Manager explained that consideration of the application had been deferred by the Committee at its meetings in October and November, 2023 in order that the Committee could undertake site visits to the proposed location.


            He provided the Committee with an overview of the application and highlighted the following key issues:


·        Principle of development;

·        Impact on the character and appearance of the area;

·        Compatibility with adjacent uses;

·        Impact on Built heritage;

·        Access and parking;

·        Drainage;

·        Waste-water infrastructure;

·        Contamination;

·        Noise, odour and other environmental impacts;

·        Climate change; and

·        Natural heritage.


            He stated that the site was located within the Colin Glen (Lisburn) Urban Landscape Wedge and had been zoned for landscape, amenity or recreation use in the BUAP 2001 and that the majority of the site had previous approval for allotments and ancillary storage/changing facility/kitchenette.


            He reported that there were no objections from statutory consultees, however, 435 objections had been received from local residents, including two petitions, which highlighted the following concerns with regard to the proposal:


·        Nature and scale of the development;

·        Importance of the Urban Landscape Wedge;

·        Loss of Open Space;

·        Impact on the environment;

·        Impact on amenity (noise);

·        Measurements in the Contamination Assessment;

·        Traffic and Road Safety;

·        Access should be from Stewartstown Road instead; and

·        Anti-social behaviour.


            The Planning Manager explained that the applicant was a private healthcare group which intended to use the site as a support hub for the care of vulnerable young adults and that the building would support the therapeutic aspect of the allotments, especially in poor weather. 


            He reported that the applicant had stated it had experience of operating a similar facility for people with learning difficulties and autism at Kilcreggan, Magherafelt and that the proposal would be a significant community benefit for west Belfast.


            He stated that the proposal was in conflict with landscape policies, however, the overall landscape impact was not considered to be significant and that the redevelopment would bring substantial community benefits that decisively outweigh the loss of the open space.


            He explained that the use of the building would be restricted by a condition to day care facilities for vulnerable young adults, Monday to Friday from 9.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. and occasionally on weekends for special events, He added that the proposal would be supported by three to four members of staff, with 10 to 15 vulnerable adults visiting the premises each day, transported by minibus and, occasionally, by parents and/or carers.


            He reported that, on balance, it was recommended that the Committee approve the application.


            The Chairperson welcomed Ms. C. McIlver to the meeting, who was attending in representation of the applicant, Conway Healthcare Group.


            Ms. McIlver explained that Conway Healthcare Group fully appreciated that the application was complex and had received a high level of objection from local residents but that the magnitude of community benefits outweighed any policy objection or local opposition.


            She highlighted the applicant’s strong fallback option, the principle of developing an allotment facility with accompanying structures at the proposal site, with access via Cloona Park had been established two years previously and remained live for another three years and would be implemented irrespective of the outcome of the application.


            She explained that there was a need for a specially designed support building and that, without suitable shelter, service users and staff would be unable to attend the outdoor facility in bad weather.


            She stated that the mobile containers which had been previously approved would only provide basic facilities and were not large enough to allow users to congregate inside, socialise, eat lunch and develop friendships.  She added that, whilst the support building was larger than the mobile structures previously approved, the proposed built form was relatively modest, with the primary use of the site given over to outdoor usable space in the form of allotments, vegetable patches and sensory gardens.


            She stated that the majority of local opposition was regarding access to the proposal via Cloona Park and that the access arrangement has been approved by DfI Roads under the previous application and would not unacceptably affect amenities and land/buildings that ought to be protected in the public interest.  She added that third party concerns were not determining in the application and should not warrant blocking the development of a valuable community facility in a small section of underused, overgrown, inaccessible open space.


            She concluded by stating that Conway Healthcare Group would deliver and operate the proposed outdoors allotment facility that local families would greatly benefit from and that there was a reasonable argument that policy objections could be outweighed by the community benefits and locational advantage of reusing and repurposing vacant grassland.


            The Chairperson thanked Ms. McIlver for her representation and welcomed Mr. P. McGeough, Mr. S. Keenan and Mr. B. Moane from Cloona Park/Helens Wood Residents Association, who were attending the meeting in objection to the application.


            Mr. McGeough stated that he was in agreement with the assertions in the report that the application did not comply with the relevant planning policies, SPPS 6.200 and 6.201, LC1 and LC1D which sought to protect and where appropriate, restore or improve the quality and the amenity of the landscape.


            He explained that the application sought to develop a building and carpark on existing open space that was an Urban Landscape Wedge and that it had bot been clearly established that the proposal would bring a substantial community benefit that would outweigh landscape impact or the loss of open space.


            He stated that, in terms of open space policy, consideration may be made to balancing other community gains with the loss of open space, however, no such provisions were included in the policy for Urban Landscape Wedges and was contradictory to planning policy as confirmed in Mark Whittaker’s (Plans and Policy Team) consultation response.


            He reported that the function of the landscape wedge was to provide a visual and physical break between areas of built development and, therefore, any significant development within the Wedge would wholly undermine its fundamental function.  He added that the Urban Landscape Wedge aimed to act as a buffer landscape which sought to prevent the merging of different city communities and provide valuable open space for the people of the urban area and had a significant role in helping to define and retain the identities and character of the component parts of the Suffolk, Cloona and Helens Wood urban areas.


            He concluded by stating that the recommendation for approval contradicted the advice and guidance from the Council’s Landscape and Development Team and its Plans and Policy Unit and that the proposal did not demonstrate the community benefits of losing a valuable open space and developing and Urban Landscape Wedge, identified and depicted as a Community Greenway in the BUAP 2001, dBMAP 2015 (ML23) and LDP 2035.


            He stated that Cloona Park/Helens Wood Residents Association considered that the proposal, on balance, was totally unacceptable and urged the Committee to reject the proposal.


            The Chairperson thanked the representatives from Cloona Park/Helens Wood Residents Association for their deputation.


            Several Members raised concern with regard to the access and egress of construction traffic related to the proposal and asserted that site access from Stewartstown Road should be considered as a condition of the application.


            The Committee agreed to approve the application, subject to conditions and delegated authority to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of the conditions and deal with any other matters which might arise prior to issuing the decision, provided that they were not substantive.


Supporting documents: