Michelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)
Councillors unhappy after Dept for Infrastructure call-in approval for new hotel in Ballymena
The Department for Infrastructure has “called-in” an application for a new hotel on the outskirts of Ballymena.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’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 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.
However, this decision has been put on hold following intervention by the Department which stepped in to say that the council may not grant permission until further advised by DfI.
A decision on the application will now be made by the Department.
The proposal was given the go-ahead by councillors despite a recommendation by planning officers to refuse the application. The application had been deferred since last year to allow further discussion with Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Roads.
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”.
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”.
A letter from the Department received by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council last month refers to “potential intensification of an existing access on a protected route, road safety and convenience of road users”.
“It is therefore considered to be an exceptional case and that the regional and sub-regional issues raised would benefit from further scrutiny from the Department,” the letter states.
Speaking at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim’s Planning Committee on Thursday morning, Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Robert Logan commented that “road traffic statistics do not support the DfI Roads’ assertion it is going to be dangerous”.
He noted a report of 30m vehicle movements on the road during a five-year period and three traffic collision that were “not too serious”.
“It is very difficult to understand. I would like to be a fly on the wall to hear what the discussions are in the Department.”
Ballymena DUP Alderman Audrey Wales MBE said: “We should probably just shove all our planning applications up to them to make a decision.”
She also stated: “We are the folk on the ground who know the area.”
Bannside DUP Cllr Tom Gordon said: “I am of the opinion, it is a total waste of time. It is delaying this application so that the developer can’t move ahead with it.”
Cllr Gordon went on to say that a new hotel is “greatly needed in our area”.
“Tourism is one of our priorities in this area,” he added.
Larne Lough DUP Ald Paul Reid stated: “If the Department overturns the decision, the powers that were delegated to us, it seems to me they are trying to claw back the powers that are delegated.
“Either we are allowed to make decisions or just take it off us again.”
Mr Duffy said he would reply that members are not happy to note the Department’s decision to call in the application.