Council

Ormeau residents' victory as Belfast City Council rejects 1am license for new hotel

2019 planning approval was granted on a condition that the licensing at the new venue on Belfast's Ormeau Road would end at 11pm
Michael Kenwood

Upper Ormeau residents are celebrating victory after a knife edge vote by Belfast City Council rejected an application to extend licensing hours from 11pm to 1am from a group planning to transform a Catholic Church into a boutique hotel.

Residents living close to the derelict Holy Rosary Church were concerned by at an application by hospitality group the Galgorm Collection, who received permission to transform the former Holy Rosary Church and an adjacent Parochial House into an 18 bed hotel and licensed restaurant, to extend licensing hours from 11pm to 1am.

The 2019 planning approval was granted on a condition that the licensing would end at 11pm and work on the £8 million plan has barely started since then on the site. Locals in nearby Bell Towers and Fitzwilliam Avenue feared the new application meant the hotel would eventually host a nightclub.

A council planning report states: “This was based on the tight residential context and that the primary use was a hotel and restaurant and therefore, a restaurant closing at 11pm is typical. The 11pm closing time was considered to allow the restaurant to operate on the same footing as other licenced restaurants and to offer a level of protection to the neighbouring residential properties from increased noise at unsociable hours and to residents of the hotel.”

At the Belfast City Council Planning Committee this week, six votes from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Green Party, and People Before Profit, rejected the application from the developer to extend licensing hours, while six votes from Alliance, the DUP, and the PUP supported the developer. The casting vote came from the Chair of the committee, SDLP Councillor Carl Whyte, who voted against the developer’s application.

Regarding the new application, the council planning report states: “Belfast City Council Environmental Health was consulted and offered no objections to the change in hours subject to planning conditions.

“Having had regard to the expert advice of Environmental Health it is recommended that the condition be varied to allow the following opening times: 1am for Friday and Saturday nights, mid-night for Sunday night, and the remaining nights retained at 11pm. It is recommended that the application is approved, and it is requested that delegated authority be given to the Director of Planning and Building Control to finalise the wording of conditions.”

Green Party Councillor for Botanic, Áine Groogan, told the committee: “A letter on November 3 2021 states that the council should know that this planning permission has not been implemented to date by the applicant and would not be unless planning condition number 11 is varied, in accordance with this application to make the scheme commercially viable.

“I take serious issue with any attempt to hold this council to ransom. Our built heritage is important but is not to be used as a bargaining chip in this manner to try to force this council to set aside valid planning concerns with unsubstantiated claims about commercial viability. No restaurant in this area operates until 1am, and I am not aware of any in the city that do.”

SDLP Councillor for Botanic, Gary McKeown, told the committee: “The applicant may want to maximise the operating hours of the proposed business at this site, but this isn’t a consideration for this committee, and the issues in the round were considered extensively in 2019 when the overall planning permission was granted. The situation since then has not changed, in that this remains a residential area where any proposed development needs to be in keeping with its surroundings both in terms of structure and crucially in this case, operation.

“The noise report provided by the applicant does not adequately address the potential impact on the nearby community in my view. It notes the restaurant can facilitate 200 patrons, yet the model of how this will impact street level seems to involve two people shouting in the vicinity of the front door.”

He added: “The fact remains there is potential impact of shouting, singing, taxi being hailed, car doors being slammed in a residential area late into the night should this application be approved.”

Local resident Martin Morgan told the committee: “This site is entirely surrounded by private housing. The committee reached the right decision in November 2019 when it accepted the protection of residents against adverse noise impact, and accepted that the bar should close at 11pm.” He said “nothing significant had changed.”

He added: “The residents of Bell Towers are extremely worried – it is palpable. The applicant says it wants to be a good neighbour. That has to be taken with a pinch of salt, as there have been now letters of response from the applicant, no contact from the applicant, and no engagement with the residents in respect of this matter. No acknowledgement of our existence whatsoever.”

Local resident Carmel Gallagher told the committee: “The Ormeau Road is not Madrid – people do not go out to eat from 11pm to 1am, they go out to drink. Our fear is that this is a huge venue, for over 200 people, and it becomes a nightclub.”

An agent for the applicant told the committee: “The condition placed on the original planning permission places an unfair and unreasonable restriction on operational hours at the hotel’s bar and restaurant, until 11pm. That does not allow for a sustainable, viable or fair hotel trading environment, compared with existing hotel operators in the wider Belfast market.

“I am not aware of any established hotel where such restricted hours of opening apply, many of which  which operate beside residential properties. Galgorm Collection wished to ensure that reasonable fair trading hours are in place before it progresses its £8 million investment.”

The agent said: “The cold reality is no commercial hotel operator will secure funding for an £8 million investment on the basis of “build it first and come back to see if you can secure the operational hours necessary to make it viable” That is a non-starter – it simply does not provide the essential business confidence needed to take the investment risk.”

The agent added: “The suggestion that the site might be flipped, and that the client is intending to sell – I can categorically say that is not the intention whatsoever of Galgorm Collection. The Galgorm Collection is committed to this site, it is committed to an investment. What it can’t commit to plainly is a situation where what it is signing up to is not viable operational hours within the business.”

 

Categories

Council