Council challenge against student housing plan thrown out

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Belfast City Council has lost a High Court challenge to permission being given for a major new student accommodation development.

The authority issued proceedings after its original decision to knock back the 10-storey city centre scheme was overturned on appeal.

It attempted to judicially review the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) for giving the go-ahead to a revised project near Library Street with reduced apartments and bed numbers.

But a judge dismissed the case after ruling that council officials failed to alert the developer to concerns about the scale of the proposed development during a critical period.

Mr Justice McCloskey held that those behind the scheme were then unfairly taken by surprise.

He said: “The ambush element was that they had insufficient time and opportunity to respond and rectify.”

The case involved an examination of the PAC’s legal right to make a determination on amended plans.

In January 2016 the council denied permission to developer Car Park Services Ltd & Slaney Ltd for the student accommodation block.

Refusal was based on the overshadowing impact on nearby residences.

But in February 2017 the commission overturned the council’s decision after assessing revisions to the development.

Amendments to the building included cutting the number of apartments from 114 to 79, reducing bedrooms from 444 to 393, and increasing the number of cycle spaces.

Lawyers representing the council went to court to contest the PAC’s legal authority to make the decision.

The court heard how the developer’s agents claimed concerns about scale or overshadowing were not raised during a period of discussions with planners.

Had the issue been highlighted at that stage amendments would have been made to reduce the size of the project, they insisted.

Ruling on the case, the judge backed that assessment.

The subsequent “ambush” should never have occurred, he stressed.

Mr Justice McCloskey said: “The lament in the interested party (developer)’s notice of appeal that the council’s handling of the planning application had been ‘wasteful of time’ and ‘wholly unreasonable’ is fully justified.”

After dealing with other parts of the case, he confirmed: “The council’s judicial review challenge must be dismissed.”