Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No Apartments in Rathmore Road Retail Development

The plans for the redevelopment of the retail-shopping units at Rathmore Rd in Bangor West are to be amended to exclude the controversial apartments which were part of the original proposal. The inclusion of apartments would have meant a development some 3½ storey high which would have overlooked neighbouring properties and would have been out of character with the immediate surroundings.

There were a number of objections to the proposal. As a result of this an office meeting involving the developers architect local planners and Councillors was arranged. It was at that meeting that the possibility of proceeding without the apartments was first mooted.

Following that meeting as the Chair of North Down Planning Committee, on my request, I have now received a letter from the developer’s representatives confirming that it is now their intention to proceed with the redevelopment of the retail unit but without the apartments. The letter goes onto request the support of North Down for a new planning proposal to this effect. That will allow for the urgently needed improvements to the existing retail units.

This is a further example of where common sense has prevailed as a result of local pressure. There can be no doubt that the redevelopment of the retail unit is long overdue. The whole area would be greatly enhanced by sensible redevelopment and no one would argue otherwise.

Unfortunately the original proposals provided for apartments on top of the retail units. That would have meant a development which would have overpowered the surrounding area, would have been quite out of character with those surroundings and indeed would have done nothing for the new retail units. There was also the problem of parking facilities and site lines. I very much welcome this new approach now confirmed by the Developer. It means that the very baldly needed retail development can take place without disruption to the local community.

This latest good news on the planning front came on top of last weeks decision to reject the Crawfordsburn Country Club proposal for the development of apartments in Crawfordsburn. To me this shows that with strong local support there is growing hope for some degree of common sense to be applied in controversial planning developments.

This decision came as a result of an office meeting when local residents, were able to spend time to discuss the application with the architect. This only goes to reinforce my point that office meetings when requested must be granted and not something ‘considered to be allowed or not’ by the Planning Service.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

People Power Counts

I have been fighting against the Planning Service approval to knock down the Crawfordsburn Country Club facility and build 15 houses and 30 apartments in 3 blocks. Crawfordsburn is a unique, historic and quaint village, one of it's type in North Down, if not Northern Ireland.

Last week the Management Board overturned the Planning Service decision to approve!

I wish to first of all say thank you to everyone in the village and beyond for their support and those who worked along with myself against the building of apartments in Crawfordburn Village Main Street.

To receive a letter from the Management Board saying, that they have given very careful consideration of the proposal and that they has concluded that this application should not be approved. I can only say I was overwhelmed and thought – thank goodness someone somewhere has some sense!

Management Board, which is the highest level of appeal we as councillors can take issues to, found that their main concern related to the impact the proposed apartment blocks. They judged these to be out of character with the surrounding context.

I am very very pleased that the Management Board has seen fit to overturn the Planning Service’s decision.

Make no mistake this is a major victory for common sense. It is also a major victory for those of us who are trying to protect our traditional villages from over development.

The detailed report on which the Management Board decision has been based is a scathing one. It concludes that the proposed development simply does not relate to the existing buildings in Main Street and would result in a MAJOR weakening of the integrity of the village appearance of Crawfordsburn. The report is uncomplimentary about the architectural style of the development. It refers to it as “unremarkable” and it represents an attempt to cram as much as possible into the site without regard to the character of the village. It is particularly critical of the inclusion of apartments.

These are the precise points which the residents and myself have repeatedly argued with the Planning Service. It is more than reassuring to have our views confirmed by such a major body as the Management Board.

The residents have never objected to a development on this site, in fact we all welcomed it. New housing would bring new people to the village and as well children to the Primary School. Our concern and worry was that a development with apartment blocks would be totally out of place in an historic, unique village Main Street. It was cramming at its worst and impossible to think that anyone would propose such a design. From day one the objections were against the apartment blocks, if these had been taken out of the design and as always suggested, town houses or houses built in keeping with the Main Street ethos, the development would probably now be built.

Many local people put a great deal of time and effort into this campaign and I am grateful for their work and support and doubtless this was a significant factor in the Management Board’s final decision. Sometimes I feel somewhat depressed that views expressed by Council and objectors are not taken into sufficient account on planning issues. That was certainly not the case in this decision; ultimately the Management Board Referral decision is final!

The applicant can submit a fresh application but the Department will require it to be substantially reduced from its current format. From a planning appeal point of view the applicant has the right to appeal the refusal notice to the Planning Appeals Commission 6 months from the refusal date. However the PAC are currently dealing with appeals received in between March to August 2007, so it would take at least 18 months to receive a hearing.

All I can say is - well done all concerned – including the Management Board for showing a bit of common sense. Hopefully this important decision will be noted by developers and encourage them to have greater respect for the surrounding environment when bringing forward their plans.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Bulky Household Collections

I was recently contacted by a number of retired folk who when they phoned the Depot to have bulky household items removed were given a charge for collection around £16.00.
One lady in particular said she lived on her pension and simply could not afford this amount of money from her weekly income. She did not own a car and was at her wits end as to how dispose of the item.
I raised this matter at several committees and the need to revise our policy. As well I wished that not only would those on receipt of a pension not be charged and those with a disability should be included.
It was of great relief to me that it has been agreed to reinstate the free collection of bulky household services to those who are disabled or elderly.