Approval for new hotel in Ballymena ‘put on hold’ after Department of Infrastructure intervenes
A decision by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to approve a planning application for a new multi-million pound hotel outside Ballymena has been put on hold following intervention by the Department for Infrastructure.
DfI has stepped in to say that the council may not grant permission until further advised by the Department.
Mid and East Antrim’s Planning Committee approved the application for a 65-bedroom hotel adjacent to Applegreen Service Station on the A26 Crankill Road and site of the former Fort Royal complex in May.
The proposal was given the go-ahead despite a recommendation by planning officers to refuse the application.
A letter to the planning committee from DfI stated:
“The Department has decided to issue this direction to allow it time to consider whether or not the proposal raises issues that require the application to be referred to it for further consideration and determination.”
The three-storey development would include a lobby, bar and restaurant as well as a car park with 91 spaces and six for coach parking. The site would be accessed at the Applegreen Service Station.
Paul Duffy, the council’s head of planning, told the meeting in May that the proposed development is located on a designated “protected traffic route”
He said that the application had been deferred since last year to allow further discussion with Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Roads.
Mr Duffy indicated there were concerns regarding movements at the junction of the site and A26 and the PSNI has advised it does not support the proposal on “road safety grounds”.
He went on to say the planning department considers that the traffic generated by the development would “prejudice road safety”.
At a meeting of the planning committee on Thursday morning, Larne Lough DUP councillor Alderman Paul Reid said:
“I am somewhat surprised. This is the second or third application that this chamber has taken a decision on, that we have spent time on – the cemetery in Larne and one that has never come into the chamber, Cloghan Point. Now we have had this hotel.
“I have no issue with the Department having a responsibility to police what we are doing but when we take decisions that are very difficult and complex, it is insulting that the Department is telling our officers we cannot issue a determination.
“It is not fair on developers thinking they have got over the line to be told they want to have a look at it.”
He went on to say that councillors have been given training and have “acted in good faith and have looked at the facts” before coming to a decision.
The council’s solicitor Elaine Kirk indicated that the Department has power to “give a direction”.
Mr Duffy said the Department has 28 days to give an application further consideration.
“It would be nice if they could work within the legislation they have drafted,” he commented.
Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Robert Logan also noted the “length of time it takes them to do it”.
He described the DfI Roads representative who spoke on the application previously as “wholly unconvincing for the reason to refuse”.
Bannside DUP Councillor Tom Gordon remarked:
“In my mind, it calls into question what authority we have when so many things are called in and questioned. We are the planning authority for Mid and East Antrim.”
Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Councillor Keith Turner asked about the 28-day time frame to get a response from the Department.
He pointed out that it is “frustrating” for the applicant who has to wait for an answer and results in holding back infrastructure.
He went on to say that it is “unacceptable and must be addressed”.
Mr Duffy told councillors: “Once the direction is served on the council, we are powerless to do anything about it.”
Ald Reid proceeded to say: “Maybe this is something we need to write to the Minister about. Maybe we should remind the Minister that development, which is one of the top priorities in this area, from the time we grant permission, that the clock is ticking.”
Last month, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council received a letter from DfI over a recent decision by the planning committee to approve an application for a new £21m Larne cemetery without prior notification.
The letter stated: “It is the Department’s view that it would be appropriate to notify the Department in relation to the application by the council for the construction of a municipal cemetery.”
With regard to Cloghan Point, a proposal is currently being considered by Mid and East Antrim Council for the redevelopment of the existing terminal between Whitehead and Carrickfergus, to an import, storage and distribution facility, incorporating petrol, gas oil and diesel and the demolition of existing buildings and chimney stack.