Former UUP minister challenges approval for social housing apartments beside his home

Former minister of the environment Dermot Nesbitt leaving Belfast High Court
Former minister of the environment Dermot Nesbitt leaving Belfast High Court

Planning approval was given for social housing apartments beside a former Stormont minister’s home without properly considering their form, he told the High Court on Thursday.

Dermott Nesbitt also claimed mere “lip service” was paid to a further requirement to examine the pattern of the proposed development.

Mr Nesbitt, who served as Environment Minister in 2002, is challenging Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s decision to approve the development in Crossgar.

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

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

He issued judicial review proceedings after the Council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead to a developer in June last year.

The proposed scheme involves building a single storey block of four two-bedroom apartments destined for social housing, together with access and parking, on a currently unoccupied site.

Mr Nesbitt has stressed the case is about complying with policy, not any opposition to social housing.

Appearing as a self-litigant, he argued that planning guidance had been issued to deal with inappropriate development involving single family homes being replaced with apartment blocks.

He contended: “They have used the appearance of the building as distinct from the form of the building to try and secure approval.”

Later in submissions he added: “(The respondent) has paid lip service with regard to pattern - there was some regard but it certainly wasn’t proper regard.

“And it’s demonstrably clear that form has not been considered.”

Counsel for the respondent stressed that only outline planning permission was granted for the apartments.

She also told Mrs Justice Keegan the case centred on whether the pattern of the development complies with environmental criteria in the residential area.

“The case officer’s report gave specific information to the committee about that and also actively considered that provision,” the barrister said.

It was contended that the legal challenge was attempting to subject the report to “undue rigour”.

Counsel added: “There’s no distinct or material defect, and no grounds for the court to interfere.

“In a fair reading of matters relevant to this outline planning application the policies were properly identified and assessed.”

The case continues.