Council planners veto housing for patients with severe learning disabilities

HOPE: 23 patients have been waiting over a year to move into residential accommodation, such as that planned for construction at this site. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Andrew Madden

A PLAN to build 23 homes for people who have severe learning disabilities is under threat.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council refused to grant planning permission – sayng the homes’ appearance would be “inappropriate to the character of the rural area”.

Triangle Housing Association, in partnership with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, put the plan forward to the council more than a year ago. It has received cross-party support and no objections from members of the public or private agencies.

The proposal is for the construction of 23 bespoke bungalows for patients who live in Muckamore Abbey Hospital. The site is situated on disused playing fields opposite the hospital grounds.

The homes are designed with input from mental health professionals and are part of a resettlement programme that seeks to give patients independence while still providing daily care for their complex needs.

The project was not granted permission to go forward because the layout of the homes was deemed “unacceptable” and their design “not in keeping with the visual character of the traditional building types in the locality”.

The layout of these homes differs from those of traditional residences in that their facades do not face one another and the views of main living areas are situated to minimise the occupants’ interaction with the other residents.

Antrim Alliance councillor Neil Kelly, who has 34 years of experience in the field of learning disability, said the very reason for the unconventional layout is to make the units suitable for their residents’ specific needs.

“It wouldn’t suit the general needs of the civilian population,” he said.

“But this facility isn’t for general needs housing. It’s a bespoke, specific supported-living project. 

“This is for disability usage. You need to trust the professional staff.

“Everyone was happy with this, except the planners, it seems. 

“The professional staff and community teams within the hospital did a lot of work around individual assessments and design.”

In recent years attempts to house patients with similar needs in residential settings in the area have been unsuccessful because of objections from the public. Plans in Crumlin, Ballyclare and Antrim town have previously been halted for this reason.

Final judgment on the project has been deferred for one month to allow efforts to find a solution.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access