Former Stormont minister loses planning battle

Dermot Nesbitt arrives at the High Court for Monday's hearing
Dermot Nesbitt arrives at the High Court for Monday's hearing

A former Stormont minister has lost a High Court battle over planning approval being given for an apartment block beside his home.

Dermot Nesbitt challenged Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s decision to give outline permission to the development in Crossgar.

But a judge rejected his claims that the form and pattern of the proposed building were not properly considered.

Dismissing the application for judicial review, Mrs Justice Keegan said: “The decision making process was lawful and cannot be characterised as irrational or unreasonable.”

Lawyers representing the council confirmed they are now seeking costs in the case.

Mr Nesbitt, who mounted the challenge as a self-litigant, served as environment minister in 2002.

During his period in office he determined a number of major planning applications in Northern Ireland.

The former Ulster Unionist MLA claimed outline permission for development on the derelict site at Downpatrick Road was given in breach of planning policy.

Proceedings were launched after the council’s planning committee gave approval to developer Choice Housing Ireland Ltd in June 2017.

The proposed scheme involves a single storey block of four two-bedroom apartments destined for social housing, together with access and parking, adjacent to Mr Nesbitt’s home.

The court heard dwellings fronting the Downpatrick Road are characterised by single, detached family homes, each within their own private grounds.

Mr Nesbitt stated that the home he shares with his wife had been in the family’s ownership for around 200 years.

He stressed that the case was about complying with policy, not any opposition to social housing.

However, the judge held that the characteristics were properly defined in a case officer’s report to the planning committee.

“Anyone reading the report could be left in no doubt that the form of the development was an apartment block,” she said.

“In my view the report did deal with the form of the proposed development. It did not rely on any incorrect policy.”

Mrs Justice Keegan also held that the issue of pattern was properly put before the committee in the case officers report.

“In truth, the committee was well briefed and had to hand all material evidence and policy considerations,” she added.

Following her ruling a barrister for the council said she was instructed to apply for costs.

Mr Nesbitt responded that it had been “a long 11 years” since he became involved with the planning issue back in 2007.

Adjourning any decision on costs, the judge said: “I will consider it.”