Belfast Telegraph

SF man accuses Belfast council planning group of 'sectarianism'

By Rebecca Black

Unionist councillors in Belfast are considering making a complaint to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman after a Sinn Fein councillor blasted members of the city council's planning committee as "sectarian".

There were protests outside City Hall on Monday night by members of Sinn Fein and residents over a decision to allow plans for a new office block on the Gasworks site in south Belfast.

The Markets Development Association objected to the plans, stating that they wanted the site to include new housing, and pointed out a "significant shortfall in housing provision in the Belfast area".

Speaking during Monday's meeting, Sinn Fein councillor Deirdre Hargey said people have been let down by the decision from the council, and insisted the area needed housing, not commercial buildings.

Later in the meeting there was a similar row over a decision to allow commercial plans for the Hillview site in north Belfast where plans for new retail units have been allowed.

Sinn Fein councillor Gerard McCabe called on the Housing Executive to vest the land for new homes. He claimed it was a "failed retail site" and said it should be used for housing.

However DUP councillor Brian Kingston welcomed the investment in the Hillview site, stating it has the potential to create 300 new jobs.

"Always demanding housing only on every bit of land that becomes available creates pressurised communities short of breathing space and short of employment opportunities. We do have to take responsible decisions and provide a range of uses for land. Sadly some parties seem incapable of envisaging supporting that balanced and appropriate development," he said.

UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey said, with regards the Hillview site, there was no planning application for housing on the site and therefore they approved the only planning application was there.

But Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee accused the planning committee of being "sectarian".

He told the council: "This is sectarianism, call it whatever you want. I have sat through planning applications for six/seven/eight apartments not 500 yards away from this which tried to be overturned because they were close to a listed building."

He went on: "It's just been a whole farce. And this is sectarianism."

Alliance councillor David Armitage - who sits on the planning committee - rose to his feet to object, only to be told by Sinn Fein group leader Jim McVeigh that the accusation had not been directed at Alliance Party representatives.

"It wasn't Alliance that was acting in a sectarian way at all," Mr McVeigh told the chamber.

Mr McGimpsey said he took offence at the comment alleging sectarianism, describing it as "complete nonsense".

However Mr Magee insisted: "I stand over my comments. Never once did I mention the officers were sectarian. I talked about the planning committee and I'll stand over that."

Mr Magee then proceeded to speak beyond his time and was asked several times by the Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister to resume his seat.

She even warned him at one point that he was being disrespectful.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that unionist councillors are considering a making a complaint to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.

Last March a complaint was lodged against Ms McAllister following the publication of an Alliance Party leaflet which made allegations of corruption by some councillors on planning issues.

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