Council faces legal action after approving controversial Co Down development
A CONSERVATION action group is taking legal action against a local council after it went against planning official recommendations for a second time to approve a controversial development in Co Down.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council planning committee granted permission in November for a 70 bed nursing home, together with 41 two and three bedroom apartments on the site of the car dealership at the Shore Road in Rostrevor, in spite of the development being recommended for refusal by a planning official.
Planning permission for the project, being brought forward by JC Campbell, was initially granted by the same committee in April last year, again in contrast to the initial refusal recommendation, but in an unusual move the approval was rescinded just five months later in September by the full council "following receipt of legal advice".
Now the group Rostrevor Action Respecting the Environment (RARE) has applied for a judicial review to challenge the council's decision and claim that their concerns over the proposed development, which adjoins ancient oak woodland, are shared by "multiple professional planning officers" from Newry, Mourne and Down Council.
In a statement released to The Irish News, the group said: "In light of JC Campbell's persistent refusal to hold a public consultation to explain the promised benefits of their 'major development' to the local community, RARE has strived to share information with the public about the potential impacts of this development on public health, a tourism-dependent local economy and our unique natural and cultural heritage.
"Our concerns are shared by multiple professional planning officers from Newry, Mourne and Down Council who have, despite revisions made to the original plans, consistently recommended refusal for this planning application, dating back to 2011."
To date the group has received strong support from the local community, with a petition of objection receiving thousands of signatures. In challenging the council's decision RARE hopes to highlight the dangers of entrusting important planning decisions to councillors.
"Since planning powers were devolved to local councils in 2015 the council's planning committee has approved a number of planning applications contrary to the recommendations of their professional planning officers and their own legal advisers. It is our aim that this legal challenge will ultimately shine a light on the pitfalls of entrusting influential planning powers to councillors with a casual interest and no accountability at the expense of the trained professionals whose very careers have been built on diligence and expertise."
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said the decision to rescind the planning permission granted in April 2017 was taken "following receipt of legal advice" and later a recommendation to refuse planning permission was overturned by the planning committee at its meeting in November 2017.
In the minutes of the meeting it was stated that the Rostrevor proposal would "add to the character of the area", "create a benefit to the local and wider area and add to the long term sustainability of the area". Also highlighted was potential jobs created through the construction process, the "minimal impact" on tourism and the environment as well as the need for the facility in the area. In the economic assessment submitted in November it was further stated that 90 jobs would be created at the nursing home.
The Council has confirmed it is in receipt of pre-action correspondence in the matter of an application for judicial review relating to the Rostrevor planning application.
"The Council is liaising with its legal advisers in relation to this matter," a spokesperson said.