A new sewage works has been given the green light close to a recently approved West Belfast social housing development at the Kennedy Enterprise Centre site.
Concerns had been raised about smell and noise for potential residents of the yet-to-be-built estate coming from the waste water centre, but Belfast City Council said the impact would be "low level" and councillors approved the sewage works at its most recent full meeting of the Planning Committee.
The application, by Northern Ireland Water, involves a partial redevelopment of former Kennedy Way waste water treatment works to include the development of new mechanical and electrical workshops, storage, changing facilities and ancillary offices.
The development will include three new buildings, a main hub building, a store to hold an alternative bottled water supply, and a generator store. It will also include a new cesspool, access improvements, parking, service yards, storage areas, contractors compound, boundary fencing, solar PV panels and landscaping.
The site is at the former NI Water sewage treatment works, Blackstaff Road, BT11. The council had previously approved a social housing led, mixed tenure residential development of 139 units at the former Kennedy Enterprise Centre, north of Westwood Shopping Centre, Blackstaff Road, Belfast BT11.
This approval came despite warnings at City Hall that the plan was not suitable. Planning officers recommended that elected representatives reject the plan, which involves 52 dwelling houses and 87 apartments, with public open space, a children's play park, landscaping, car parking, associated site works and infrastructure and access arrangements from Blackstaff Road.
Despite the recommendation for rejection, the plan was carried through at the council’s Planning Committee with nine votes in favour from Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, the Green Party, and People Before Profit, to four votes against the plan from the DUP, UUP and PUP.
UUP Alderman Jim Rodgers said the plan was “not suitable” as “it was in the middle of an industrial site” while a council officer told the Planning Committee the application represented “poor place making.”
Planning officers however did recommend the new sewage works. This was after councillors raised a concern that the proposed development could have “an in-principle environmental impact on a live planning application for proposed residential development for social housing on an adjacent site.”
The council planning report states: “Officers have sought the view of Environmental Health and further information has been provided by the applicant to provide clarification on the frequency of night-time activities and odour.
“Following consideration, Environmental Health advises that the approval of the proposed NI Water development would not have an adverse impact on the proposed housing development on the adjacent site.
“Based on information provided by the applicant, Environmental Health consider that the need for out of hours access will be intermittent, emergency access less again, and the degree of activity on-site during night time hours would not give cause for noise impact concern, especially set in the context of other noise sources already extant in the area during the evening and at night associated with a number of commercial premises that already exist in the immediate area.
“Furthermore, Environmental Health advises that the proposed mitigation measures by way of glazing and alternative means of ventilation for the proposed housing development have been designed to a high specification to deal with existing high noise levels measured and modelled in the area during the daytime and at night.
“The additional access requirements to the redeveloped NI Water site (with the new access point) at night and the relatively low level of activity on site during this time would not, in the opinion of Environmental Health Officers, lead to a significant increase in noise levels in the area on those occasions such that the proposed mitigation measures (for the housing development) would not be designed to deal with.”
The report adds: “With regard to odour, the RPS Odour Impact Assessment accompanying this planning application concluded a low level impact and that odour is typically transient. Additionally, the odour source is not part of the proposed development and lies outside the application site.
“Notwithstanding, Environmental Health consider that the proposed residential development is further away than the RPS subjective odour monitoring positions, and given the prevailing wind direction, i.e. south westerly, there is unlikely to be significant impact on external amenity areas within the proposed housing development.
“In conclusion, officers are satisfied that the proposed development would not give rise to unacceptable impacts should the proposal for social housing proceed.”
Paddy Brow, Head of Living with Water Programme, NI Water, told the committee approval of the application would “help protect, enhance and grow the entire city and how the increased wastewater capacity would facilitate economic growth.”
In a subsequent statement issued by NI Water, Mr Brow said they “can assure the public that NI Water has no plans to recommission the wastewater treatment works (WwTW) within the site at Upper Falls beside Kennedy Way”.
He added: “Under the Living With Water Programme’s (LWWP) Strategic Drainage Infrastructure Plan for Belfast, which was approved by the NI Executive and published in November 2021, the increased wastewater treatment capacity that is needed to facilitate economic development across this part of Belfast will be provided by upgrading the existing operational Belfast WwTW, which is located in Duncrue Industrial Estate.”
NI Water added: “The application that was approved by Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee on 18 April 2023 was for the creation of a new Kennedy Way Hub on lands beside the site of the decommissioned Upper Falls WwTW. NI Water welcomes this approval as it will allow a number of offices, stores and workshops, currently based at Belfast WwTW, to be relocated to Upper Falls, providing the space needed to then upgrade Belfast WwTW. In addition to bringing 32 office based staff to the area, 67 mobile staff will be based at the new hub.
“Implementation of the Living With Water Programme (LWWP) Plan for Belfast will see over £1.4bn invested over the next 10 years to provide the increased drainage and wastewater capacity needed across Greater Belfast to protect against the risk of flooding, enhance the water quality in rivers and Belfast Lough, and provide the increased capacity needed to support economic growth. Of this, around £170 million will be invested between 2023 and 2027 to double the capacity of Belfast WwTW at Duncrue Industrial Estate. The LWWP partners include the Department for Infrastructure, Belfast City Council, NI Environment Agency, NI Water and the Utility Regulator.”
Mr Brow added: “As well as helping to facilitate economic development across Belfast, the works within the Upper Falls site will also facilitate improvements to the wastewater network to improve the capacity of the pumping station and local sewers, which will reduce the spills from combined sewer overflows to the Bog Meadows and River Blackstaff; reducing odours, improving water quality and amenity value.”