Belfast Telegraph

Church apartments plan to get green light despite opposition of residents

By John Mulgrew

A church's "surprising and alarming" plan to build 22 apartments in an affluent area of south Belfast looks set to get the go-ahead despite more than 100 objections.

Windsor Baptist Church has submitted revised proposals for the development at Malone Avenue after a backlash from residents.

Now Belfast City Council planners are recommending to councillors that the scheme gets the green light.

It's expected to be approved next week.

Conor Doyle, secretary of the Lower Malone Residents Association, said: "It's surprising and alarming that planning officials think these three-storey apartment blocks should get the go-ahead in a part of Malone Avenue where semi-detached homes are the norm.

"We want to see sites like this developed in a way that adds to and doesn't detract from the unique character of the Lower Malone Conservation Area.

"Development should encourage families to live in our neighbourhood and help build community. This would do the opposite."

The church wants permission to knock down its existing building and construct 22 apartments on the site with associated car parking.

Planners say "the replacement scheme would represent a high-quality design that would enhance the character and appearance" of the area.

A total of 142 objections were received, 97 of which followed submission of the amended plan, reducing the number of apatments from 26 to 22.

Concerns include "gross over-development", the dominant scale and massing of the building, and fears that the plans "do not respect the architectural style, existing densities, building line or pattern of development".

The council's conservation officer had "advised that Windsor Baptist Church makes a material contribution to the character and appearance of Malone Conservation Area". But a report said that with permission granted several years ago for the demolition of the building, it "would be unreasonable" to refuse it now.

While planners have recommended the apartment building gets permisison, there are a series of conditions.

They include showing which materials will be used in its construction, and demonstrating that there will be satisfactory bin storage and collection.

No one from the church or TSA Planning, which is working on the scheme, was able to respond to Press enquiries.

Windsor Baptist Church is currently transforming the nearby former Majestic cinema on the Lisburn Road, which it will use as its new meeting hall.

It is one of the last remaining venues of its kind in the city, but has lain empty for several years now.

After its closure as a picture house, the building was turned into a furniture store in the 1970s. Although it enjoyed listed building status for a number of years, this was removed in 1998.

The Majestic's designer, John McBride Neill, was the foremost architect of cinemas in Northern Ireland during the golden era of movie-going.

Belfast Telegraph

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