Belfast Telegraph

Belfast residents to challenge £55m office block plan in court

By Alan Erwin

Residents have won legal permission to challenge the building of a new £55 million office development at an inner city housing district in Belfast.

A High Court judge granted leave to seek a judicial review of the decision to approve the major construction in the Market area.

Campaigners opposed to building an office block up to 14 storeys-high claim it will seriously impact on their right to privacy.

Proceedings were issued against Belfast City Council after it accepted a planning application for the development at Stewart Street and East Bridge Street, near Central Station.

The 26,000 square metre Grade A office space will create 350 construction jobs and generate permanent employment for 2,500 people, the court heard.

But more than 200 households in the adjoining neighbourhood have objected to it being given the go-ahead.

One resident, Elizabeth Conlon, brought the challenge on behalf of a wider group within the Market community.

Her barrister, Liam McCollum QC, argued that the decision by the Council's planning committee to approve development was arguably unlawful.

Claiming a potential breach of privacy entitlements under European law, he contended that the office tower would be invasive and overlooking homes.

"This is a long, historical social housing location going back many years," Mr McCollum stressed.

"The tradition is two storey housing in the Market area, this development will involve up to 10 and 14 storey-high development which is in strict contrast to the neighbourhood."

Mr Justice McCloskey was told the commercial scheme is inconsistent with the sense of community spirit.

It was also alleged that the planning committee was potentially misdirected when it considered issues around the height of the scheme.

Counsel added: "This is a complete, self-contained community that has been in existence for many, many years."

A lawyer for the Council rejected claims that a "paucity" of information was put before the committee.

She insisted that the point about overlooking homes was considered and not found to represent an unjustifiable interference.

Ruling on the application, the judge acknowledged the scale of the planned office block, which would also bring in £1.5m a year in rates.

"It's a development which is major from every perspective - physically, economically and any other respects," he said.

But based on the requirement to establish only a arguable case, he confirmed: "The decision of the court is that the threshold for granting leave to apply for judicial review has been overcome."

The legal challenge will now be heard in full over two days in January.

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