Plans for apartments and offices in the Markets and Lower Ormeau refused
Plans for office and apartment blocks in the Markets area and Lower Ormeau Road have been rejected by Belfast City Council after significant opposition from locals.
At the council’s monthly meeting of its Planning Committee on January 19, councillors turned down a double apartment block at Ormeau Road on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, and the conversion of the old convent school at Sussex Place in the Markets into an office block.
The Markets plan involved the conversion of the listed former St Malachy’s Convent of Mercy into offices and a cafe and the conversion of an adjoining vacant warehouse at Rathbone Street into a block of eight apartments, and the demolition of a boundary wall.
The plan received 286 objections from locals, as well objections from representatives of Queen’s University, and Botanic Councillors John Gormley, Tracy Kelly, and Gary McKeown.
Criticisms of the plan focused on the detrimental impact on a listed building and the Linen Conservation Area, substandard design, residential amenity concerns, lack of consultation, and potential anti-social behaviour.
Council planning officers had recommended the proposal, by Scottish company Xafinity Pension Trustees Ltd, to be agreed by elected members. A council report states “the proposed development on balance results in an enhancement of the appearance and character of the Linen Conservation Area.”
It adds: “On balance, it is considered that the amenity concerns will not give rise to an unacceptable adverse impact on existing or proposed occupiers.”
During the planning meeting, a resident living adjacent to the site told elected members: “We have a big issue with parking in our area at the minute. We also have double yellow lines on both sides of the street, which makes it even harder for parking. There is a fight every day to find a parking space on the street.
“I cannot even park outside my own front door. There are issues with parking wardens every day, as residents can’t park at their own doors because we have issues with workers across the street. It is an absolute nightmare.
“Construction parking is a nightmare, and if all these apartments and offices go in, where are you going to park?”
Sinn Féin Councillor John Gormley told the committee: “When I talk to the residents of Joy Street and the surrounding streets on this application the expression that comes up again and again is overdevelopment.
“From the cramped apartments, to the lack of amenity space, to the unsatisfactory bin arrangements, residents see this as having within it a series of inbuilt problems that will come back to haunt all residents, both old and new.”
Councillors unanimously supported a proposal to reject the application.
A plan for two blocks containing 13 apartments at Ormeau Road on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue was also refused unanimously at the meeting of the Planning Committee.
The application, by Andrew Bradley of Magherafelt, received 75 objections, which dwelt on a lack of parking within the proposal and pressures on existing street parking, as well as overshadowing from the new building on residents in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Council officers nonetheless recommended the plan. The report states: “It is considered that the proposal respects the surrounding context and is appropriate to the character and topography of the site in terms of layout, scale, proportions, massing and appearance.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Matt Garrett proposed the plan be refused. He said: “I live on the end of a terrace, and my back garden has more space than the amenity space planned for these 13 apartments. I just don’t think that is good enough.”
He said: “A rear yard is all the space the residents along Shaftesbury Avenue have. A rear yard which now has the prospect of a 25 foot building that sits 12 feet away from the back of their property. I don’t think that is acceptable to us as a committee.”
He added: “We are seeing here month in month out almost a precedent being set, where amenity space is being reduced to minimal standards, and developers scrape through policy in terms of what is acceptable.
“For me all this is doing is presenting as much space for the developer for economic return. As opposed to the impact it will have on the users of the apartments or housing, and the people who live around them.
“We see it more and more as we get closer to the city core. It’s like, ‘if you are near the city centre, that is acceptable’. It’s not. We should be brave enough as a committee to say it is not acceptable and we expect more. But of course developers are working the policy.”