Castle Street apartments plan is refused

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Mid & East Antrim Council’s Planning Committee have refused a proposal for a Social Housing Development of 19 apartments at Castle Street.

The application by Helm Housing Association, which attracted seven letters of objection, went before the Committee’s August monthly meeting in Ballymena on Thursday with a recommendation from planners for approval.

The Committee heard that the application proposes the development of 19 apartments to be set around a central courtyard with both vehicular and pedestrian access from archways from Castle Street.

Helm Housing Association’s application involves the demolition of existing buildings at 39 and 49-51 Castle Street with a redevelopment to include the change of Use of 45 Castle Street to a duplex apartment with the erection of 18 apartments - two to be within a replacement building facing Castle Street with the remaining 16 to be in two new 2.5 storey buildings to the rear.

Nine car parking spaces are also proposed within the site.

The committee heard from Planner Denise Kerr that seven letters of objection had been received on behalf of five neighbouring properties with the main issues relating to insufficient car parking provision and potential loss of amenity through overlooking.

She said that while there were no objections from statutory consultees subject to conditions including Department of Communities, Historic Environment Division and NI Water, that DRD Transport NI had requested that additional car parking be provided.

Ms Kerr stated, however, that, given the town centre location and since access to services and facilities were easily accessible within walking distance and by public transport, the planning authority ”considered it appropriate to accept reduced parking standards at this location”.

Recommending approval of the application, she stated that the principal of residential development was considered acceptable at the location, that the proposed development would “increase the vitality and viability of the town centre” and would promote a sustainable form of development.

Speaking for neighbouring residents, Grace Henry outlined their concerns including that the consultation period on amended plans had been insufficient as it was held over the July 12th holiday period and also the potential loss of privacy from overlooking.

“The scale, bulk and mass is inappropriate as the development has been shoehorned into the site,” she told the Committee.

Mrs Henry stated that the original application approved for the site was for 16 one-bedroom apartments and 66.6% more parking and that it had expired in April 2014.

She stated that the original was, therefore, “dead” when the current application was received which, she pointed out, proposed more accommodation and less parking.

She called on the Committee to defer any decision on the application to allow “further and full consideration” as well as a meeting with the senior planner and was backed in her call for a deferral by Councillor Stephen Nicholl who also agreed with her that the current application was “a significant change” from the previous approval in terms of density and parking.

A spokesperson for the applicant, said they supported the planners’ recommendation to approve the application which, he said, “fully complies with all relevant planning policy and guidance”.

He said a parking survey had confirmed the availability of unrestricted, legal car parking spaces for all residents in a number of surrounding streets including Carnduff Drive, Meetinghouse Lane, Trostan Avenue, Linenhall Street and Mill Street and said there would be “no significant level of overlooking” from the proposed development.

He said car parking, which comprised nine spaces sited within the courtyard, was a matter for the planners rather than a consultee.

The committee was also told by Ms Kerr that Transport NI were “the technical advisers”.

“The planning authority are the people who make the decisions,” she said.

A proposal to defer a decision on the application for one month by Councillor Andrew P. Wilson, seconded by Councillor Robert Logan, was lost by a vote of four for and five against and the committee went on to back by five votes for, and three against, a proposal by Councillor Paul Reid, seconded by Councillor Billy Henry, that the application be refused on grounds of ‘inadequate car parking as suggested by Transport NI’.

The Planning Committee’s decision will go before the next full meeting of Mid & East Antrim Council in September for ratification.