Northern Ireland news

DUP's Trevor Clarke in U-turn over unauthorised triple garage

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke with party leader Arlene Foster, and right, Mr Clarke's home outside Randalstown
Brendan Hughes

A DUP MLA facing enforcement action for building a triple garage at his home without approval is now seeking planning permission – despite claiming none was needed.

Trevor Clarke, who has also been under pressure over a sideline planning lobby business, made the u-turn after discussing the issue with planning officials.

The huge garage constructed beside his rural two-storey home has been the subject of a council investigation into alleged planning breaches for more than a year.

Mid and East Antrim council has also been examining a printing business which is run by his son from the address without planning approval.

When the enforcement probe first publicly emerged in September, Mr Clarke maintained that planning permission was not required.

A DUP spokesman for Mr Clarke at the time said: "Planning permission is not required for a detached domestic garage if it meets certain conditions.

"Mr Clarke's view is that the garage on his property meets these, despite a complaint submitted by a political rival."

But the MLA has now submitted a retrospective planning application for the garage near Randalstown in Co Antrim.

The council confirmed it received an application, but it has not yet been placed on the online planning portal as officials have requested further information.

The garage, which has three separate garage doors and a pitched roof, was built beside the Clarkes' home in recent years.

The Clarkes also run a car sales business from the address.

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke's home outside Randalstown in Co Antrim, where he runs a cars sales business

Mid and East Antrim council had said an earlier investigation found the use of the land for car sales was "immune from enforcement" due to legislative time limits.

An enforcement investigation was later opened in August 2018 after the garage was discovered during a fresh planning complaint about the car sales business.

"Council is currently investigating alleged planning breaches at this location," it added.

According to guidance on the Planning NI website, planning permission for a detached garage is not required if its maximum height is four metres; the area covered by it and any other outbuildings is not more than half the total area of the house; and it is used solely for domestic purposes.

Images of AC Print's products posted on its Facebook page appear to show them positioned inside a building adjacent to garage doors.

A council spokesman said: "A planning enforcement investigation is still ongoing and the council is unable to comment on the details of this.

"The council can confirm an application was received regarding this property which was returned with a request for further information.

How The Irish News has reported on the Clarkes controversy

"Following the receipt of the complete application the details will appear on the planning portal."

A DUP spokesman for the South Antrim MLA said: "Mr Clarke has discussed the issue with planning officials. An application has been lodged to regularise the development."

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Triple garage probe among several Clarke controversies

THE triple garage probe is among several controversies to emerge in recent months surrounding DUP MLA Trevor Clarke and his wife, DUP councillor Linda Clarke.

In July, an Irish News investigation revealed the Clarkes' sideline planning consultancy business.

Mr Clarke has rejected concerns that Versatile Consultancy breaches assembly rules which prohibit paid advocacy.

Both have insisted they "made all the relevant declarations and adhered to all rules".

A council watchdog has also opened investigations into alleged conflicts of interest involving Mrs Clarke's role on Antrim and Newtownabbey council.

It emerged Mrs Clarke participated in council votes for planning applications Mr Clarke lobbied on in 2017 during a period when he was not an MLA.

Mrs Clarke was also involved in awarding more than £4,500 in council contracts to their son's printing firm AC Print, which is based at the family home outside Randalstown, Co Antrim.

AC Print has also been embroiled in a police probe into claims of "dirty tricks" during May's council elections.

A TUV man complained that a DUP mock ballot paper produced by AC Print described him as an Alliance candidate. The DUP said it was a "printing error".

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