Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Green light for 500 student rooms in Belfast but two flats projects put on hold

By John Mulgrew

Published 17/02/2016

The former Belfast Metropolitan college building
The former Belfast Metropolitan college building
Ruth Patterson

500 more student bedrooms have been given the green light for Belfast, but two other developments - including a controversial student apartment building - have been deferred.

Approval was given for a development that will involve the demolition of the former Belfast Metropolitan College building facing Blackstaff Square.

It means more than 1,600 new student rooms have now been given permission.

Two other large applications were not decided upon during last night's Belfast City Council planning committee meeting.

That included a contested 156-bedroom project on Dublin Road, which has received dozens of objections from nearby residents.

Addressing the committee, a member of the Donegall Pass Community Forum raised concerns about the development, which he said was in a "contentious location", including over issues of noise, its proximity to a residential area, parking, and the scale of the development.

Councillor Ruth Patterson, who is opposed to the building, said the community was made up of a mixture of "ethnic minorities, Protestants and Roman Catholics" which had been well-established in the area.

"How would you like 156 students living on your doorstep?" she asked. Conor Hughes of planners Turley Associates, acting on behalf of Lacuna Developments and Welsh company Watkin Jones, said the proposals were consistent with guidelines.

Mr Hughes said while the group had launched a consultation process to deal with residents' issues, the "community decided to withdraw from that".

Asked how poor student behaviour would be dealt with, the committee heard that a "three warnings" system was in place.

Students failing to behave would then be "removed from the accommodation" and required to continue paying their lease fees.

A vote will take place at a later date following a visit to the site by members of the planning committee.

Work has already begun on the project, with the previous building demolished.

A vote on another 407-bedroom student building on York Street, close to the new Ulster University campus, was also deferred pending a site visit by councillors.

Some concerns were raised about clustering of major high-rise student buildings in the area, with several others also in the works close by.

Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee raised concerns about the actual level of student rooms needed for Belfast.

Around 7,500 are at various different stages of development, with several projects under way.

Mr Magee said one Ulster University staff member had told him the university only required "1,300 (student) beds".

Council director of planning, Phil Williams, told the committee that each developer was required to identify a need for the student rooms proposed.

He said while there will "come a point" when it becomes more difficult to justify, "we are nowhere near that point".

The committee heard there had been 19 applications for student housing developments in the city.

Concerns were raised that many of the new multi-storey buildings close to the new flagship Ulster University building, some of which have already been awarded planning permission, could "overshadow" the building itself.

Just last month 1,200 student rooms got the green light after two major developments got the go-ahead.

They are a 682-bedroom project at York Street by UK firm UniCiti, and an 11-storey student building with 475 rooms by Patton Developments located at Great Patrick Street.

Three other proposals, including one large student development, were refused.

According to two studies, if all 7,500 beds were approved, it would account for just 23% of available student beds, a lower proportion than many other cities in the UK.

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