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Belfast councillor criticised for Holylands flats plan

Independent councillor Declan Boyle, and the property being converted from offices into flats. Picture by Mal McCann

BELFAST City Council has been criticised for granting a councillor planning permission for new flats in the Holylands despite efforts to reduce the area's high concentration of students.

Independent councillor Declan Boyle, who quit the SDLP last year, is a landlord who manages dozens of student lets in the Holylands.

A planning application was submitted in his wife's name to convert offices on Rugby Avenue previously used by the charity War On Want into a pair of two-bedroom flats.

It was approved by the council's planning committee on January 16, with nine councillors voting in favour and two against – Alliance's David Armitage and the SDLP's Donal Lyons.

For years permanent Holylands residents have complained of anti-social behaviour due to an "oversaturation" of students.

Last year almost £9,000 of ratepayers' cash was spent tackling Holylands disorder over the St Patrick's holiday period.

Brid Ruddy, of the College Park Avenue Residents' Association, said she was "gobsmacked" by the planning decision.

Holylands resident Brid Ruddy. Picture by Hugh Russell

She said it goes against council efforts to reduce student numbers in the Holylands and facilitate the development of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) in the city centre.

However, Belfast City Council (BCC) defended the decision, saying it complies with planning policies.

Mrs Ruddy said: "The city council is passing all these planning applications for new accommodation in the city centre, and here they were allowing for more development in an already overcrowded area. It just doesn't make sense."

She claimed developers are bypassing a cap on the number of Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) allowed in the Holylands by instead converting houses into apartments.

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown hit out at Mr Boyle, warning that an increase in housing could cause further problems for current residents.

"For a councillor to seek permission to convert offices into residential accommodation flies in the face of our stated and strategic objective of encouraging students into purpose-built accommodation," he said.

Mr Boyle defended the plans, saying they would "enhance" the area.

Councillor Declan Boyle speaking at Belfast City Hall. Picture by Philip Walsh

"This is a development of two two-bedroom flats and whenever they are constructed they will be available for anyone. Nobody has said they're student accommodation," he said.

"It will clean up, tidy up and regenerate that corner, and I see only a positive out of it."

BCC said current HMO policy seeks to both protect areas and promote appropriate PBSA development, but the flats proposal is neither.

However, the council said it is currently developing a new local development plan which proposes managing flat conversions.

Rugby Avenue and Carmel Street in the Holy Lands area of south Belfast PIcture Mal McCann.

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