Permission to build £20 million hotel near Portstewart is quashed

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Planning permission for a new £20 million hotel and leisure resort on the north coast is to be quashed, a High Court judge has ruled.

Lord Justice McCloskey had already held that Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council’s decision to approve the four-star complex near Portstewart was procedurally unfair.

His final order, in a legal challenge by TUV leader Jim Allister, means the planning application must be reconsidered in accordance with the law.

The judge said a mere declaration identifying the breaches in the process would be insufficient.

He confirmed: “I consider the appropriate exercise of the court’s discretion to entail the making of an order of certiorari quashing the impugned grant of planning decision.”

Mr Allister described the outcome as “most gratifying” and called on the planning decision to be taken out of the council’s hands.

With permission first given for the project in 2017, but withdrawn after the North Antrim MLA initially threatened court action, he claimed the authority has now got it wrong twice.

“I could have no confidence in the council again deciding this application, particularly in circumstances where there are now judicial findings against it of procedural unfairness and misapplication of policy,” he said outside court.

“The Department of Infrastructure should now exercise its powers of ‘call in’, under the Planning Act, if there is to be any further consideration of this application.”

Together with a neighbour, Mr Allister sought a judicial review after the green light was given for the development close to their homes.

Proceedings were brought after the council granted planning permission for a hotel and spa complex on the Ballyreagh Road for a second time in March 2018.

The project also involves conference and banqueting facilities, holiday cottages, a restaurant and visitor attraction centre for the North West 200 motorbike races.

Nearly 100 full-time jobs, generating almost £2m in salaries, would be created, it was claimed.

With up to 50,000 guests expected annually by the third year of operation, the court heard projections they could spend around £6m per annum in the local economy.

During the case an independent councillor who sat on the planning committee which approved the resort dramatically intervened to claim he had covertly recorded relevant conversations with officials.

Padraig McShane said he had amassed hours of material.

Based on those alleged conversations and emails, Mr Allister’s legal team argued that hotel development was seen as key for the borough.

They contended that there was a bias towards securing planning approval at all costs.

However, the judge backed counter arguments that the local authority’s representatives held up to close scrutiny.

Mr Allister mounted a wide-ranging challenge to the planning permission, including claims that the environmental screening process for the proposed coastal location was flawed.

He also contended that the council used the wrong criteria, and should have considered the application under a policy for a larger-scale tourism attraction.

Despite dismissing some grounds advanced in a judgment last month, Lord Justice McCloskey ruled for him in four areas: procedural unfairness, breach of the Planning Committee’s Protocol, error of law in respect of Policy CMP3 and breach of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations.

Returning to the case today, the judge also made a protected costs order in Mr Allister’s favour.