A major initial planning application for a vacant Belfast Gasworks site has been approved, involving new social housing, office and community space and a hotel extension.
The plan’s residential and community aspects have been welcomed by a group campaigning for the adjacent Markets community, who say it marks a victory for their Homes Now! campaign.
Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee this week green-lit “outline” planning permission for the erection of 94 social housing dwellings on two sites with access from Raphael Street and Stewart Street, along with the provision of landscaping, parking, public open space, pumping station and associated works.
The applicants for the residential part of the plan are Belfast City Council and Radius Housing. Approval was given by elected representatives subject to conditions, after recommendation from council officers.
The residential element forms one part of a plan for the currently unused brown field site known by planners as the Gasworks Northern Fringe.
The larger plan involves new office, retail, and commercial space, an extension to the Radisson hotel, a multi-storey car park, a new public plaza, as well as community infrastructure and community enterprise space.
The council report states: “The residential element is in effect an application for full planning permission, but procedurally it is an outline application.”
A mix of two storey residential homes and five storey residential apartment blocks, as well as three, five and eight storeys mixed-use buildings are proposed within the masterplan area.
An extension of the existing Radisson Blu Hotel will comprise a five storey bedroom block, with provision for approximately 101 bedrooms. It will also include a gym and a three storey hotel amenity block.
The council received 268 “representations” regarding the plan.
A council officer said all these representations were supportive of the social housing and community elements of the plan, but raised concerns about the delivery of the hotel and car park parts of the site.
A representative from the Markets Development Association told the Planning Committee this week: “The sites under consideration were among the first developed in South Inner City, and we are delighted to see its historic housing use restored.
“This is the culmination of two decades of campaigning by Markets residents, the last five years of which have been particularly intense, under the banner of the Homes Now! campaign.
“Residents have collected petitions, lobbied political representatives, participated in the consultation process, and when necessary, have protested to secure these homes.
“In a community which year-on-year has over 110 homeless families on the waiting list, the 94 new homes will have a considerable impact. The causal links between homelessness and poor mental health and poor educational attainment are well documented.
“These homes will go some way to reducing these wider social deprivations within the community. Generations of families will reap the benefit of a vote for homes tonight.
“We also welcome those elements of the masterplan which designate the adjoining lands for community infrastructure, social economy and cooperative development.
“Successful communities are built on more than houses, and these spaces will help overcome the structural deficiencies of the Market Communities redevelopment in the 1970’s, when its mixed up economic base was divested.
“Residents remain concerned about the proposed uses for sites B and C in the masterplan, and in particular, the extremely negative attitude of the prospective developer towards the Market community.”
Stormont’s Historic Environment Division has objected to the application, expressing concerns about the potential impact of the taller elements of the proposal on nearby listed buildings in the area.
NI Water has also objected, citing concerns about the capacity of wastewater treatment infrastructure.
Stormont’s Roads division is seeking further information in terms of the submitted travel plan for the residential part of the application and green travel measures, including a commitment to travel cards, car club membership and Belfast Bikes membership.
The council report adds: “In view of the objection from HED and current position of DFI Roads, the application will need to be notified to the Department for Infrastructure in accordance with the Planning (Notification of Applications) Direction 2017.
“Assuming that the Department does not ‘call in’ the application, the application will then need to be subject to a Pre-Determination Hearing before further consideration by the Planning Committee.”
The proposed car park development will be five storeys with an additional half storey setback, incorporating up to approximately 231 car parking spaces.
There will be an overall loss of 160 car parking spaces across the application site as a result of the proposed redevelopment.
The report states: “The application site is located within the Belfast City Core Area of Parking Restraint.
“Policy establishes a need for proposed car parks in areas of parking restraint to be limited to short-stay parking and to be appropriately managed to deter long stay commuter parking.
“Whilst some of the parking in the multi storey car park provides for the new development, the majority is replacement parking for vehicles already travelling to the site.
“Parking on parts of the Gasworks site is already managed to deter long stay, evidenced by barriers and ticket machines. It is expected that the proposed multi storey car park will be managed in a similar manner. It is considered that the multi storey car park would help address some of the loss of parking within the site.”