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Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Michael Kenwood

Belfast Council votes against new student block after locals appeal

Belfast Council has voted to refuse an application to build what would have been Northern Ireland’s largest student accommodation block, after protest from local North Belfast residents.

At the Belfast City Council meeting of its Planning Committee this week, a proposal to reject a council officer’s recommendation to approve a 795 unit building was successful, but without unanimous backing from the chamber.

The proposed development site, at lands bounded by Library Street, Stephen Street, Little Donegall Street and Union Street, in the Carrick Hill area, currently comprises a vacant brownfield site used for car parking behind Belfast Central Library.

The proposal to reject the planning application was made by Sinn Féin, with an amendment from the Green Party. On a recorded vote the proposal won by seven votes for to four votes against, with the DUP not supporting the proposal.

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The decision however has yet to be finalised, as the proposal was deferred for the City Solicitor to draft refusal reasons to make the proposal legally tight, and to get further details on an assessment from the Stormont Historical Environment Division. Despite the deferral the committee decision will remain.

The plan was the latest and largest application of a raft of student accommodation projects across the city following the opening of the long-delayed new Ulster University campus, which opened to 15,000 students and staff last September.

The largest scheme in Belfast so far to have been granted the green light is a 774-unit scheme by Student Roost on Nelson Street by Sailortown.

North Belfast MLA Carál Ní Chuilín and Carrick Hill representative Frank Dempsey appeared before the committee to explain their objections.

Carál Ní Chuilín said: “If this is granted, it will mean well over 8,000 student bed placements in that area. I am from the area, it is part of Carrick Hill, it is not a separate area. People live on Union Street.

“There were 66 homes in the area that have gone now for student accommodation. The (site) was earmarked for regeneration with family homes, it is now a car park for the university, and we have students parking on resident’s doors.

“The council objected to one of the current buildings on Union Street, but this was overturned, and now another block is earmarked for housing on Donegall Street. I believe this is going to have a material negative impact on the inner Northwest Masterplan.

“We are not anti-regeneration, in fact we have been arguing for regeneration for a long time, but we are talking about buildings that are sympathetic to buildings already there. I am thinking of the 3,000 people living in housing stress.”

She added: “People are still living in Stephen Street, Kent Street, and on Carrick Hill. The families waiting for homes are sitting on the outside, looking in on a development they are never going to have.”

Frank Dempsey told the chamber: “I was taken aback regarding the consultation the developers talked about. We told them distinctly we are opposed to this, because of the detrimental effect it will have on our community.

“I have heard it time and time again, city centre, city centre - it’s not the city centre, it’s Carrick Hill. It’s been Carrick Hill since the 1700s.”

He said a recent survey had shown 1,500 people opposed to the sites planned for student accommodation in the area, which he said were “destroying” the local community.

He said: “Have many rapped the doors of the people on Stephen Street to ask what they thought? What had happened to them? When they talk about student managed accommodation, you have to understand what that is. It doesn’t mean the students are managed once they walk outside that door. Understand the fears of people in Carrick Hill - when all they see is Holylands, Holylands. And you expect people to live facing that?”

Councillor Ryan Murphy who made the proposal to reject the plan, said: “There is a concern there, it is not just about height, scale and massing, it is about trying to build a community, or rather, extending a community that already exists there. By creating homes and families that are on waiting lists in the locality can go to live.”

The Sinn Féin man said: “The development there would be counterintuitive to the ambitions of the council to bring forward residential mixed tenure residential development within the wider Northwestern Masterplan site.”

Green Councillor Áine Groogan, who made the amendment on the proposal, told the chamber: “I am concerned this may be overdevelopment of the site. This is less than 2.6 metres of amenity space per unit.

"This is going to be very built up. There is a massive building beside it that we did not approve of, and others around it. We are creating a bit of a concrete jungle here, with very little amenity for the prospective thousands of students, who deserve a quality residential environment as well.”


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