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Belfast city student building given green light after appeal

By John Mulgrew

A major student development which was refused permission has been given the go-ahead following the first appeal of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The now-revised 393-bedroom building is due to be developed close to Library Street in the city centre.

The scheme was knocked back by Belfast City Council planners in January 2016.

Planners said it was of a "scale which is unacceptable". It was to have been 34-metres high.

Addressing the planning committee, a representative acting for the firm behind the failed scheme said her client was "extremely shocked" that the student accommodation had been refused. She said her client was "proactive" and had only recently learned about concerns raised.

The application was made by Car Park Services Ltd & Slaney Ltd. Now, the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) has overturned the decision and given the revised plans the green light.

It's the first time the commission has overturned a council decision on a major student development in the city.

Amendments to the building include a setback on the top floors, a reduction in bed numbers from 444 to 393, fewer apartments and increasing the number of cycle spaces.

In the appeal decision, commissioner Mandy Jones said: "I consider that it is an appropriate design to respond to its inner city location and addresses the scale of tall buildings in the area whilst being cognisant of the dwellings on Stephen Street."

She said, accordingly, the "council's reason for refusal and the objectors concerned have not been sustained".

Andy Stephens of Matrix Planning said the decision "is significant as it is the first such proposal to go through the appeals process and to be allowed permission by the PAC".

"The developer sought to reduce the proposal. The council planning officers did not accept the alterations, which were a reduction despite them being placed before them.

"This is an ongoing approach by council planners, which has been demonstrated to be incorrect, as the change did not significantly alter the substance of the proposal so, unsurprisingly, was permitted by the commissioner.

"The appeal decision considered the principle of the proposed use at this location and the impact on the character of the area and the residential amenity of adjacent residents, as being acceptable."

Around 3,000 student rooms have already been given the green light right across Belfast, with many of those in and around the York Street area, close to the new Ulster University campus.

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