620-bed Belfast student accommodation given green light on appeal

The site at Donegall Street is currently a popular car park
Gareth McKeown

PLANS for a new multi-million pound Belfast student housing development have been approved on appeal following initial council refusal.

The Irish News can reveal that planning permission was granted on Tuesday for a 620-bed development at Donegall Street, close to the new Ulster University campus, due for completion in 2020.

The land, which is currently a HandyPark car park, is set to to be transformed into a ten-storey student building, as well as associated amenity and ancillary support accommodation and 54 lower ground floor parking spaces, according to the newly-approved application.

The site, at one time part of the £300 million Belfast Northside scheme, had initially been earmarked for a mix of residential accommodation and retail, with enabling works on a basement car park taking place following planning approval in 2008.

However, when plans did not come to fruition a new application was submitted in June 2015 by Northside Regeneration Ltd proposing accommodation for 710 students and associated car parking, which was later reduced to the current scheme.

The application was refused by Belfast City Council in September due to issues surrounding the proposed height of the development, possible negative impact on nearby listed buildings such as St Patrick's Church and the site's location within an area previously earmarked for social housing. Residents in the neighbouring Carrick Hill also voiced concerns in relation to the influx of students to the local area and previously questioned whether the demand was there.

In January Northside Regeneration Ltd and Balfour Beatty Investments submitted an appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission and a hearing was heard in June. Announcing his findings this week commissioner Mark Watson dismissed objections from local residents.

"Given the relative separation between Carrick Hill and the appeal site I am not persuaded that the character and community identity of Carrick Hill would be swamped or dominated by students residing in the appeal development."

The application was given the green light subject to a number of conditions, with the ruling stating that construction work must begin within five years or the planning permission will expire. The Donegall Street development is one of a host of applications for student accommodation that have already been before Belfast City Council's planning committee.

A 14-storey apartment block at York Street, a 13-storey development at Queen Street and an 11-storey student building at Great Patrick Street are among those already approved, while the £16 million John Bell House on College Square East and the 45 room Mark Royal House, just yards from Ulster Univerisity's front door - have already opened.

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