Northern Ireland news

DUP's Trevor Clarke faces planning probe for triple garage built without approval

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

A DUP MLA under fire for his sideline planning advice business is facing enforcement action for building a triple garage at his home without planning permission.

Trevor Clarke lives with his family in a two-storey house outside Randalstown in Co Antrim.

A huge garage constructed beside the rural property is the subject of a council investigation into alleged planning breaches.

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

It emerges as Mr Clarke and his wife Linda have come under weeks of pressure after an Irish News investigation exposed his business lobbying for planning applicants.

Mrs Clarke, a DUP councillor, has also faced calls to resign after it was revealed she was involved in awarding thousands in ratepayer cash to her son's printing business, AC Print.

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.

Mid and East Antrim council said an earlier investigation found the use of the land for car sales "was immune from enforcement in accordance with the time limits set out in legislation".

However, it said an enforcement investigation was later opened in August 2018 after the garage was discovered during a fresh planning complaint about the car sales business.

"While the complainant did not refer to an unauthorised garage, the information submitted by the complainant brought the presence of a new garage on site to the attention of the council and an enforcement investigation was initiated," a spokesman said.

Read More: Fresh concerns about DUP's Linda Clarke may need formal complaints, watchdog says

He added: "A planning enforcement investigation is ongoing and therefore we are unable to comment further. Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has a duty to investigate any alleged planning breaches."

Asked whether the printing business needed planning approval, the spokesman added: "The need for planning permission for a printing business will be dependent on the nature and scale of the activity.

How The Irish News has reported on the Clarke controversy

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

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.

The DUP did not respond to requests for a comment.

In July, an Irish News investigation revealed Mr Clarke is running a sideline business lobbying on behalf of planning applicants.

Mr Clarke earns thousands of pounds as a partner in Versatile Consultancy, which has acted as the planning agent for several applications in the Antrim area in recent years.

It was later revealed that Mrs Clarke, who works in Mr Clarke's South Antrim constituency office, also had involvement in the business but did not declare it to Antrim and Newtownabbey council.

The MLA code of conduct prohibits paid advocacy.

The couple have insisted they "made all the relevant declarations and adhered to all rules". However, Mr Clarke moved to suspend Versatile's operations.

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