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Student housing developers appealing scheme's rejection

By John Mulgrew

The developers behind a 620-bed student accommodation scheme that was to be part of a £300m Belfast regeneration plan are appealing a decision to refuse it planning permission.

The Northside Regeneration body and the former Department for Social Development (DSD) wanted to have the building, which would have included housing and retail and leisure facilities, near Royal Avenue in the city centre.

However, DSD pulled out last year, saying developers "should no longer benefit from the potential use of the department's statutory powers".

The project was subsequently refused permission, but Northside Regeneration and Balfour Beatty are appealing the decision to the Planning Appeals Commission, with a hearing set for next month.

If the project had been given the green light, it would have been located on Donegall Street.

However, it was decided the proposal ran counter to the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan.

"The site is zoned for social housing and, if permitted, (this project) would prejudice the potential to deliver social housing," planners said.

It was also decided that the development could cause "unacceptable damage to residential amenity for existing residents due to the uncharacteristic and inappropriate design, height, scale and massing", and could have a negative impact on nearby listed buildings, including St Patrick's Church.

The Northside project hit a roadblock in January last year when it was refused outline planning permission.

In April last year, a spokeswoman for Northside said it was disappointed at the then-DSD Minister Lord Morrow's decision, and added it had "invested financial resources, time and expertise in this project and continued to be committed to its delivery".

Northside Regeneration is a consortium chosen by DSD. It includes Balfour Beatty and property developer Kevin McKay.

Planners acting for Belfast's Smithfield and Union Quarter, which would be impacted significantly by the proposed development, wrote to Lord Morrow.

With Stormont pulling out, one planning expert said that it would be "very hard" to bring the proposed accommodation scheme together.

A number of major student housing developments are already under way in the city.

Among them is McAleer & Rushe's 740-bed scheme at College Avenue, which will have 647 bedrooms and 93 studio rooms and retail outlets.

The Co Tyrone firm is also planning more student housing at McClintock Street.

The McClintock Street and College Avenue schemes are to be sold to Queen's.

Around 7,500 rooms are at various different stages of development.

Lacuna Developments and Welsh property firm Watkin Jones are behind a number of other projects,

They include the 317-bedroom Swanston Hall on the corner of Queen Street.

Work is also almost complete on a 156-bedroom student building on Dublin Road.

Other proposed schemes include a 682-bedroom project at York Street, which was submitted by UniCiti, and an 11-storey student building with 475 rooms by Patton Developments, located at Great Patrick Street.

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