Elected representatives sitting on the May Planning Committee meeting decided the need for more social housing ‘considerably outweighed’ the planning policy.
The application was for the ‘construction of social/affordable residential development and community centre with works to include new access to Springtown Road, upgrades to Springtown Road and junction of Hawthorne Drive to include two right hand turning lanes, part culverting of existing watercourse, demolition of existing building, development of associated communal amenity spaces and landscaping and associated site works, road and car parking’.
The layout plan and Design and Access Statement indicates the proposal is for a total of 258 residential units.
A council officer told the committee the proposal is contrary to Derry Area Plan and it would set ‘undesirable precedent for other development outside the limits’.
Despite the need for social housing, officers considered there was ‘ample supply of zoned housing land and land existing within the limits of development in the city which can accommodate this housing in a more sustainable manner.’
Daniel McAteer, representative for Hartlands NI Ltd and Apex Housing Association, reminded the panel ‘we are not here for a fight, we are here to discuss the policy’, before saying: “Where there is an up to date plan, applications which are outside the limit should invite in a rejection unless there are good reasons to say otherwise. So the answer is no unless we can persuade you otherwise to say yes.
“The situation here is we have an out of date plan, hopelessly so the court would describe it as, so we are now operating on a plan that expired in 2011.”
Mr McAteer continued: ”There is a misconception that a line drawn around Derry in the year 2000 should act as a barrier to economic development or improvement for the local community. There is a screaming need for social housing in this area. Every single political party that we talk to will tell us they could fill these houses tomorrow morning. This is a first class scheme of first class homes”.
Committee members were informed by a council officer that part of the zoned land at Creggan remains undeveloped and the Derry Area Plan had indicated there was potential for 360 dwellings which could be built on the H3 zone.
Stating he was ‘going to put his cards on the table’, SDLP Councillor John Boyle said: “Whilst I’m not inclined to overturn the officers’ recommendation but where this committee decides that’s what they wish to do I would respect it.”
Proposing the officers’ recommendation to refuse was not accepted, Sinn Fein Councillor Christopher Jackson commented: “The basis for that is going back to the very substantial social housing need that’s in place here in the city. The figures from the Housing Executive between 2021 and 2026 is that we need in the west Bank alone 3,000 social housing units to be built. The current rate of development goes nowhere near that.
“This is an opportunity for us to further advance the provision of social housing on the west bank of our city and that in my view is a material consideration we need to put considerable weight behind and I am going to propose we approve the application.”
Head of Planning, Maura Fox made her position very clear stating: “If this application is approved this would set a very significant detrimental planning precedent for the city and district of this council. I would be saying that I strongly recommend we refuse this application.”
Agreeing there is an ‘undeniable housing emergency across the city and district’, SDLP Councillor John Boyle spoke of his concern about the precedent it would set if the application was approved. The councillor was insistent that if the application was approved there should be a condition included for developers to build a high quality play park facility for children living in the area.
The application was approved, with 10 votes in favour of the proposal and three against, on the condition a playground facility is shown on the plans going forward.
By Gillian Anderson
Local Democracy Reporter