Northern Ireland news

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke's triple garage granted planning approval

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke with party leader Arlene Foster, right, Mr Clarke's home outside Randalstown, and inset, how The Irish News revealed the planning probe
Brendan Hughes

A DUP MLA's triple garage which was the subject of an enforcement investigation has been granted planning permission under delegated authority.

Trevor Clarke submitted retrospective plans for the garage built at his rural two-storey home without approval after facing enforcement action from council planners.

The garage outside Randalstown in Co Antrim is used for the family's car sales business and a printing venture run by the South Antrim MLA's son.

It has three garage doors and an upstairs floor with a personal gym, pool table and bowling mat.

An enforcement investigation was opened in August 2018 after the garage was discovered following a planning complaint about the car sales business.

Mr Clarke, who ran a sideline planning consultancy business, had previously insisted the garage did not require planning approval.

However, he submitted retrospective plans last September just weeks after The Irish News revealed the enforcement probe.

The garage was granted approval this month by council officials under delegated authority, rather than a decision being made by councillors on the planning committee.

A case officer report said the development had "no significant impact on neighbouring residents" and "whilst comprising a three-bay garage with upper floor is still subordinate in scale to the main dwelling".

The case officer said there were five cars and a van parked in front of the garage when he visited.

He said the print business operates in the garage with a small office and commercial-scale printer, and invoices suggested it had operated from the address since 2013.

The official said he believed both businesses meet planning criteria on home-working ancillary to residential use.

The businesses occupy a "small area" of the garage and distance from neighbouring properties meant there was "no impact in terms of noise, visual amenity or traffic generation".

If the business activity increased "this can be monitored and addressed, if necessary, through a future planning application", he added.

Mid and East Antrim council said that under planning legislation, some applications are delegated to planning officers rather than being referred to the planning committee.

"It is mandatory for the planning committee to make decisions on planning applications which fall within the major development category," a spokesman said.

"As this planning application fell within the local development category, it was within the council's scheme of delegation and issued accordingly."

The garage probe was among several controversies which emerged last year surrounding Mr Clarke and his wife, DUP councillor Linda Clarke.

An Irish News investigation last year revealed the Clarkes' sideline planning consultancy business.

Mr Clarke rejected concerns that Versatile Consultancy breached assembly rules which prohibit paid advocacy.

Mrs Clarke is also being investigated by a council standards watchdog after it emerged she was involved in awarding council contracts to her son's printing business.

The couple have insisted they "made all the relevant declarations and adhered to all rules".

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