Northern Ireland

Controversial north Belfast housing development at peace line gets final green light

Hillview Retail Park in north Belfast's Crumlin Road area. Picture: Google Maps.
Hillview Retail Park in north Belfast's Crumlin Road area. Picture: Google Maps. Hillview Retail Park in north Belfast's Crumlin Road area. Picture: Google Maps.

PLANS for social housing blocks at a peace wall in North Belfast have been given the green light despite opposition from unionist councillors and over 400 written objections.

The residential development passed its final hurdle this week at a meeting of Belfast City Council's Planning Committee.

It will comprise 18 social housing units at Hillview Retail Park, off the Crumlin Road, and will also include two terraces, car parking space, gardens and new site access.

In August 2021, the Planning Committee -  against the advice of its own officers, statutory bodies and objectors - approved the development, with eight votes in favour from Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance, the Greens and People Before Profit, against three objecting votes from the DUP and the PUP.

Issues raised by council officers were not to do with the proposed development being on a peace line.

Following the submission of additional reports, council officers considered that the outstanding issues relating to contaminated land, air quality, noise and drainage were addressed.

Read more:

  • Housing chiefs 'bow to political pressure' in north Belfast campaigners claim
  • Calls for clarity on north Belfast housing sites
  • Call for more social housing in north Belfast

However, road issues remained outstanding after Stormont's Department for Infrastructure made objections, but following an amended site location plan in July of this year, which included a speed hump and widened footways, the department offered no further objections.

At Tuesday's committee meeting, council planning officers said they would be recommending members approve the application.

The council report states: “The Northern Ireland Housing Executive provided a consultation response in January 2023, supporting the proposal as there is housing need in the area. It advises that the site is located within the Ardoyne Common Landlord Area.

“As of September 2022, there were 288 households in housing stress within the area. The site also sits within the North Belfast Housing Needs Assessment Area which has an unmet five year need of 2,016 units between 2022-2027.”

Councillors heard that a further 217 objections over the development had been received, bringing the total number to 437. The council planning document reports objector concerns, which state: “The site is within a retail park, the principle of development is unacceptable (and in) a highly sensitive interface area, and the proposal will not promote neutral urban space and would be detrimental to it.”

It adds: “The proposal does not accord with policy and does not respect its surrounding context in terms of design. The rear boundary wall would provide a poor outlook for residents.

“There would be inadequate provision for private open space and landscaped areas, there would be conflict with adjacent land-uses, including overlooking. The proposal would not deter crime nor promote personal safety.”

Sinn Féin councillor Conor Maskey said: “The recommendation is very clear. The work done by the applicant across all the contentious points, air pollution, noise, especially on roads – they have worked hard on this. 

“It would not be unreasonable for this committee to retain its view. We have talked around the houses. At the time the committee’s view was to disagree with the officer’s recommendations, and I recommend we hold to the decision the committee originally made.”

DUP Councillor Jordan Doran said: “This is a successful retail park, which is used by everyone in the area. Since this came to the committee last, the retail park has grown significantly, I don’t think there is a single empty unit.

“I think we have to be realistic about the geography of North Belfast – this is an interface area. This is putting housing into the corner of an area that is shared and contentious.

“So we will continue to oppose this. It is a poor living environment, in the corner of a retail park. And we need to take heed of the 437 objections.”

Sinn Féin's Nichola Bradley said: “It is a new retail park, and has completely changed the face of Crumlin Road for the better, for everybody living around it.

“I was brought up in Ardoyne, I historically know what the area meant, and there is a world of difference now. There has been work going on with cross community groups, with youth groups, work that has been going on for years. The whole mentality down around that area has completely changed, and I think this will just add to it.”

A Sinn Féin proposal to approve the development was carried through by 14 votes from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, and the Greens, against five votes from the DUP and the UUP.