Councillors back residents and refuse permission for changes to homes on ‘one of our most beautiful streets’

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Derry & Strabane councillors have sided with residents and gone against a Planning recommendation to allow two buildings to be changed into homes of multiple occupancy in “one of our most beautiful streets.”

Residents from Lawrence Hill stated their opposition to the two separate planning applications during the council’s Planning Committee meeting in the Guildhall on Wednesday.

The first application concerned 15 Lawrence Hill, which currently houses four apartments. Planners had recommended the committee approve the application to convert this into 10-bed home of multiple occupation (HMO). They also recommended approval for a second property, at 30 Lawrence Hill, where a different applicant had applied for a change of use from a family house to a HMO with 10 bedrooms.

In relation to 15 Lawrence Hill, a planning officer told the committee that the building would retain its original brickwork and would still be used for residential purposes.

Commenting on the objections lodged, she said that the property was within a designated flats zone and there were approvals for apartments at various other properties in the street.

She also said that the location, within walking distance to the city centre and local amenities and facilities, and with public transport links, mitigated against some of the concerns raised over parking, adding that such accommodation was likely to attract transient tenants such as students.

One local resident, speaking on behalf of 15 established families and the Sisters of Mercy living in the area, argued that 32 per cent of Lawrence Hill was already flats or HMOs, compared to a cap in the student city of Oxford of 20 per cent.

“Do you want us as a community to move out?” she asked. The woman, who did not wish to be named, said there was a serious issue with parking at Lawrence Hill, with residents regularly hemmed in and access blocked.

“Residents have been forced to park at Magee and have paid to do so,” she said, adding that students today do have cars. Lawrence Hill was once a close knit community, with no students living in the area. “Why would you change this based on a lack of demand?” she asked, citing reports which showed a recent reduction in enrolments at both Magee and the NWRC.

SDLP Colr. Angela Dobbins applauded the woman’s “clear and precise” delivery and claimed the planning report made a lot of assumptions.

Sinn Fein Colr. Keiran McGuire said that if he lived in this area he would have serious concerns, pointing to parts of Belfast where residents were experiencing difficulties.

SDLP Colr. John Boyle agreed. “I have no doubt most students are very well behaved, but there is anecdotal evidence about what happens where there are more students, such as the Holylands in Belfast.”

DUP Councillor Hilary McClintock said Lawrence Hill was “one of our most beautiful streets” but said councillors had to give weight as well to the need for accomodation.

Gus Hastings added: “It has been and always was a traditional area for families to grow up in and live there.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue said it was difficult to make a decision given the “definite need for one person accomodation,” but said the ratio of HMOs and flats in the one area tipped the balance.

Her party colleague Tony Hassan recommended the committee go against the planners’ recommendation.

In relation to the separate application for 30 Lawrence Hill, following the same presentation by the same resident, agent Kelly Gormley said the applicant was an experienced student housing provider and in realtion to parking concerns pointed out the proximity to both Magee and North West Regional College. She added that a lobbied for permit scheme for residents was something the applicant would welcome.

On each of the two applications, however, 13 of the 14 committee members voted against the developments, with UUP Councillor, Mary Hamilton, abstaining.