Residents of Belfast’s most exclusive street have predicted the “death” of its conservation area after the council approved an extension and renovation of one of its properties.
At Belfast Council’s monthly Planning Committee meeting, elected members approved a plan at Malone Park – seen by many as the city’s “millionaire’s row” – for the renovation and rear extension to a dwelling, and the construction of a new detached garage and new entrance gates and pillars.
The plan, by the owner of the house via Andras House Ltd, also involves alterations to the existing driveway and the extension and upgrade of the existing parking area.
The local Sinn Féin Councillor for Balmoral, Geraldine McAteer, went against her party in voicing opposition to the renovation during the meeting, as did representatives of the Malone Park Residents Association.
The objectors claimed the application would contravene planning policy on new building coverage, which does not allow development of more than one and a half times that of the original dwelling. Objectors and council officers disagreed on the amount of space being added with new development.
The council report states officers “do not necessarily accept” the figures coming from objectors and after assessing the application “on the basis of the objectors’ position” council officers still found it to be acceptable.
Stewart Beattie QC, representing the objectors, told the committee: “It is a policy without precedent, it says ‘in no circumstances’ – there are no exceptions to the policy.
“I cannot think of a policy in all my career, in all my time of practice, that is more strongly worded than that. And the words must mean something, they cannot be simply set aside.” He added: “There must be a guard against incremental accretion of building development.”
Planning consultant Michael Worthington, speaking on behalf of the Malone Park Residents Association, said: “The Park is under a significant development pressure, of a scale that it hasn’t seen for quite some time. From the residents’ perspective, this application represents a pivotal point in time for this conservation area.
“There are a number of applications in the system, for which the decision on this application will be critical. The approval of this application will allow for the incremental increase of larger developments that will negatively impact on the relationship of buildings and landscape.
“When combined, it will decimate the character and appearance of the area. In effect, the approval of this application paves the way for the death of the conservation area, by a thousand applications.
“It is in the public interest to protect and conserve the character and appearance of the area, and the residents submit therefore that this application should be refused.”
Councillor McAteer told the committee: “The residents of the Malone Park Residents Association have asked me to support them in their efforts to protect and conserve what is a wonderful natural built heritage in Malone Park, in the Balmoral constituency.”
She added: “We are very lucky to have very special built and natural heritage assets in Belfast, and Malone Park is one such unique place. It has many individually designed residences that combine with generous plants, mature landscapes and the beautiful tree-lined avenue to produce a very distinctive townscape character, which I think is worthy of the utmost protection.”
Council officers recommended the application be approved by elected members. The planning report states: “It is considered that the extended driveway and hardstanding area would have a limited visual impact and in this regard the character and appearance of the conservation area would be preserved.”
It adds: “The proposal would not give rise to unsatisfactory proportions, or seriously infringe on the setting, and would not be overbearing in relation to the form of the original building. The proposed garage has been set behind the building line of the existing dwelling and a sufficient distance from the dwelling to ensure that views of the dwelling are not impacted.
“The planting and landscaping scheme will aid to soften any impact of the garage. The design of the garage, being single storey and of red brick with hardwood windows and doors will integrate the garage with the existing dwelling and site. There is also a comparable relationship between the location of the garage with the neighbouring site.
“The proposed pillars and gates to the front of the property are considered sympathetic, the design of the pillars is of a high standard and the railings would allow views of the dwelling to be retained. Given the proposed design, scale, materials, landscaping and the surrounding context, it is concluded that the character and appearance of the conservation area would be preserved.”
The report also directly addressed the objection from the Malone Park Residents Association saying it had been received and considered. The report says: “The objection states ‘the approval of this application will allow more and bigger developments negatively affecting the relationship of landscape and buildings and which would, when combined, decimate the character and appearance of the Malone Park Conservation Area’.
“Officers do not accept that assertion having regard to the strict policy context for development in this area. Each application is determined on its own merits. Officers consider that the proposal is a modest development when considered within the context of the surrounding area.”
On a vote, eight councillors, from Sinn Féin, the DUP, Alliance and the SDLP, supported the application, while two objected, from the Greens and the PUP, and one Green Councillor abstained.