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Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Michael Kenwood

East Belfast social housing plan recommended for refusal as City Hall officials raise "concerns"

A plan to build social housing blocks comprising 46 apartments in Strandtown, East Belfast is being recommended for refusal by Belfast Council officials.

An application for the erection of a three storey 46 apartment building at 146 Parkgate Avenue, Belfast BT4, with associated car parking site and landscaping works, was deferred at the latest meeting of the Belfast City Council Planning Committee, for further discussion and for councillors to conduct a site visit.

The 0.3 hectare site is unoccupied and is covered in parts by hardstanding and scrub grass. It was previously occupied by a former residential building and has also been used for commercial purposes. The applicant is Parkgate Property Developments, of Mound Road, Dromore.

Read more: Malone area luxury homes' plan passed despite objections and Council officer concerns

There were no objections from any of the statutory consultees. One letter of objection, from a resident at the nearby Brandon Terrace, cited concerns about height of the apartment development, loss of light and the proliferation of Japanese knotweed.

DUP MP for the area Gavin Robinson has indicated his support for the apartments proposal, citing the need for social housing in the area. Connswater Homes Housing Association sent their support, again stating an urgent need for social housing. They added the proposed building was “designed in accordance with Department for Communities guidance, to meet specific requirements in terms of the mix of housing accommodation types, parking and open space provision.”

The Belfast Council officer planning report states: “Having regard to the development plan and all other relevant material considerations, the proposal is considered unacceptable in that the need for social housing does not outweigh the layout, design, amenity and policy issues, and refusal is recommended.”

It adds: “The two buildings range between approximately 38m and 48m in length. This design approach would result in a monolithic type of massing which is out of character with the area and contextually inappropriate.

"The scale of the buildings, in combination with the proportions and massing, fails to respect the existing streetscape. The applicant has argued that the proposal fits comfortably within the context of the area and neighbouring buildings, however, it is considered that the length and massing is inappropriate to the scale of the street.

“Whilst the area contains several apartment developments, they are not of a similar scale in terms of length and resulting massing. When read as an entity a proposal of this scale in the local context is an indicator of overdevelopment.”

It states: “Whilst a three storey height forms part of the character of the area, the design and layout of the proposal in proximity to an existing apartment development at number 2a Brandon Parade creates an unacceptable relationship, and will have a detrimental impact on the residential amenity of existing residents.

“The three storey element and roof height create dominant bulk and massing due to its close proximity to the apartment development at No.2a Brandon Terrace. It would appear as a dominant and overbearing feature creating overshadowing due to its height in the street scene which is indicative of overdevelopment.

“The inter relationship of apartments between units Nos 1 and 14, 15 and 30, 31 and 46 would result in direct overlooking and intervisibility due to the orientation of the building, the positioning of windows and the limited separation distance. This is considered unacceptable and would compromise the amenity of prospective residents.”

The report adds: “It is considered that the scheme fails to provide quality amenity and landscaped space.”

Green Councillor Áine Groogan said at the committee meeting: “I absolutely accept there is a housing crisis, and the need to provide more homes. But it is exactly that, homes, and long-term sustainable healthy homes (we need), and not to just throw up housing for the sake of throwing up housing. So it is very important that we get good quality housing, and not just approve anything that comes before us - that is the duty upon us all in the Planning Committee.”

UUP Alderman Jim Rodgers said: “I was rather surprised at a refusal coming forward. There is such a long waiting list in this district, most elected representatives are absolutely tortured every day with people telling them they can’t get anywhere to live, and anywhere to sleep. I would have thought this was a good opportunity.”

He said: “We have been trying desperately hard to uplift this district, and this refusal is a slap in the face.”

DUP Alderman Dean McCullough said: “It is a real stretch to refuse this. A lot of these considerations are minor, and the applicants have given a clear commitment around their willingness to engage and to work.”

Alliance Councillor David Bell said: “I am very aware, representing Titanic, that there is a pressing need for such housing. However I am not prepared to just ignore the comments from officers, and I am sure they are founded in good common sense.

“It's not a case of housing or no housing, it’s a case of getting the housing up to a standard they should be. With social housing, we should not be accepting anything less than the highest quality, and if this isn’t reaching that target, then we should find some way of doing that.”

The application will return to the Belfast City Council Planning Committee in August.

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