Concerns over differing Departmental advice on application for Derry home

The gap site at De Moleyn Park where the house is to be built.
The gap site at De Moleyn Park where the house is to be built.

Local councillors have queried why a government department had no objections to a planned three bedroom house in Derry, but later raised an objection to amended plans for a one bedroom dwelling.

Various elected members sitting on the local Planning Committee raised concerns over the differing advice from the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) Roads department before they granted permission for the house at De Moleyn Park in the Rosemount area of Derry.

Plans showing the gap site before (below) and after the house is built.

Plans showing the gap site before (below) and after the house is built.

Applicant, Deirdre McCay, had submitted a revised planning application to construct a one-bedroom house in a vacant area between two semi-detached houses and a row of terraced homes, but some local residents objected.

Planners had recommended the committee approve the plans for the infill dwelling between numbers 2 and 3 De Moleyn Park, which was previously the side garden area of No.3. The Committee was told that site sits within the extended Clarendon Street Conservation Area and is opposite Listed Buildings at De Burgh Terrace.

DfI Roads had provided a refusal reason regarding inadequate parking provision, and stating that the proposal would, if permitted, prejudice the safety and convenience of road users since adequate provision cannot be made clear of the highway for the parking of vehicles which would be attracted to the site.

Objectors also raised numerous issues including over-intensification of parking and potential blockage issues, being overlooked and loss of light, design and impact, loss of garden character, potential for the dwelling to be used as a house of multiple occupancy, structural stability issues, devaluation of property and rear access for oil deliveries and bin storage.

Parking along the street.

Parking along the street.

Planners, however, concluded that the setting of the Listed Buildings was unaffected by the proposal and said the detailed design and materials were similar to existing properties along De Moleyn Park. Addressing the traffic issues, Planners stated that “the potential blockage of Stewart’s Terrace and De Burgh Terrace alley for service vehicles appears to be an existing problem.”

CENTRAL AREA

Planners also concluded that the house is located within Derry’s Central Area with good transport links, within walking distance of to the city centre and had the potential to bring in an additional one or two cars, given its scale, as opposed to potentially more cars in the previous application, adding: “The loss of a small gap in the frontage would not have a significant impact. It is considered that development of this site will round off the terrace and clean up an unsightly overgrown disused gap site within the Conservation Area.”

In terms of overlooking/loss of light, the proposed dwelling will look on to a blank gable, Planners said.

“The potential blockage of Stewart’s Terrace and De Burgh Terrace alley for service vehicles appears to be an existing problem.

A House of Multiple Occupation, they added, would require a separate planning application, the planning report stated.

Addressing the committee on behalf of the objectors, resident Mary Kerrigan stated that she was an architect, conservationist and an advisor and was very familiar with the issues involved.

ACCESS and PARKING

She said there were very relevant issues in terms of access, movement and parking.

“It matters to us this is a safe place.”

She said there had been a chimney fire in the area in the past and the Fire Service tender had had to stop half way down the street. She then asked the committee to picture a different scenario if residents were asleep and the Fire Service could not access the area.

In terms of the environment of the area, she said: “It matters to us that we left this street better than we found it,” and claimed that the proposed dwelling would detract from the conservation area.

“Ample grounds exist for refusal,” she said.

Applicant Deirdre McCay then addressed the committee and said she welcomed the recommendation from Planners to approve and said the plans have been in the system for 18 months.

“We have taken the time to make considerable changes to the application to take on board all the concerns raised by Planning and raised by the objectors as well,” she said.

The applicant said she understood and respected the objectors’ concerns, and had tried to engage with them to resolve issues but said an offer to meet was declined. As applicants, she said, they could not be held responsible for issues such as car parking, adding that the new home would “actually remove an eyesore.”

OVERGROWN SITE

Referring to projected images of the area, DUP Councillor Hilary McClintock said: “I see before us an overgrown, derelict site which obviously needs something done to improve the whole site.”

When asked by Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue whether the DfI (Roads) previously had no objection to the three bedroom design whereas they were objecting now to the one bedroom house, the Planning Officer stated that this was the case.

Colr. Logue said: “I do find this very, very confusing from DfI, if they are to be trusted as professionals and come back and say, ‘no, we’re okay’ and then come back with a different view on a reduced dwelling.”

Head of Planning Maura Fox said they could not comment on the change in position of the DfI. “We are where we are now,” she said.

Colr. Logue said it was “totally out of order” to have authorities offering up very differing opinions,

Sinn Fein Colr. Christopher Jackson said he had no issue with infilling the gap, but said the problems residents in the Rosemount area were experiencing in terms of parking were well documented, adding that it was not surprising emergency services, council services and others couldn’t gain access. He said that he did not agree with intensifying this problem until those problems were addressed.

Colr. Logue, meanwhile, said: “I do think at the very least we need to write to Roads Service and ask them to explain this to us. We all know the parking issues all over the city is a major issue and I think we need to have a consistent approach from Roads Service.”

Chairman of the Committee, Independent Colr. Warren Robinson agreed that the two opinions from DfI were “contradictory.”

Maura Fox said parking issues actually fell to the planners to decide upon. She said that although they could take advice from experts, “ultimately we have discretion; it’s our call and the committee’s call”. Colr. Logue responded: “But we rely on their expertise to help us make these decisions and when we are getting this type of advice it doesn’t help us. I want Road Service to explain to this committee why the change.”

SDLP Colr. Angela Dobbins said: “I think Roads Service needs to come back and explain why it’s good one time when there are possibly more cars, but isn’t good now.”

Alderman McClintock proposed that the committee grant planning permission for the house, seconded by SDLP Colr. Gus Hastings.The Planning Committee voted in favour by majority, with 11 voting for, two against, and one abstention.

DEPARTMENTAL RESPONSE

A spokesperson for the Department responded following the meeting: “DfI Roads, as a consultee to the planning process, is consulted on planning applications for developments that may impact on both road safety and traffic progression on the public road network. DfI consider aspects such as vehicular access, parking provision and pedestrian/cyclist safety.

“Derry City & Strabane District Council Planning Office consulted DfI Roads on a planning application for a dwelling within De Moleyn Park and subsequent submissions from both the applicant and objectors to the proposal. DfI considered the information received from council and provided advice to enable the council’s planning office to make a decision on the application. DfI understand that the application has been approved, which concludes the Department’s role in the matter.”