Planners’ pledge a relief for Carrick residents

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Homeowners on a development which was built on a landfill site near Carrick have been told they can apply for a certificate which will clear

them to sell their houses in future.

Last week, Mid and East Antrim Council refused planning permission for 25 occupied houses on the former landfill site amid contamination fears.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of the council’s planning committee last Thursday.

However, despite the committee’s refusal to grant permission, council cannot take enforcement action against the houses, which are situated to the rear of 77 Woodburn Road, as they were constructed before 2011.

This means that homeowners of the dwellings, which have been completed and lived in for more than five years, can apply for a certificate of lawful use or development (CLUD) enabling them to sell their houses should they wish.

Committee members and planners raised fears over the effect that the situation would have on residents’ house value, insurance and health.

A report presented to councillors revealed that the application was originally submitted to Carrickfergus Borough Council’s Environmental Health Department, who highlighted concerns over contaminated land to the Planning Service as it was known to be a former land fill site with “anecdotal evidence that unknown materials had been dumped” there.

Borehole logs from two firms revealed the site contains “made ground comprising of bricks, concrete, mood, plastic, wire fragments and other organic fragment-materials likely to be found in made ground/fill.”

Significantly, the report highlights that this could “pose risks to future site users due to inhalation, ingestion or dermal contact with contaminated soils or the inhalation of ground gases such as methane, carbon dioxide or other trace gases.”

Discussing the application by 4L Developments, planning officer Gary McGuinness told the committee that the houses were “built on a land fill site and could be issues in terms of geo-technical instability and contamination.”

He described bore hole tests undertaken by the applicant to detect the level of contamination as “unacceptable” and “insufficient.”

UUP Cllr Stephen Nicholl said that the residents were the “people most affected” and asked if they could meet with planners to rectify the situation.

“There are issues in terms of insurance and selling houses in the future,” he stated.

However, Mr McGuinness said that homeowners could apply for a CLUD certificate which would allow the houses to be sold.

“I can reassure all home owners that if they do go through this procedure all houses will be granted that certificate,” he stated.

“I can assure residents that if they present a CLUD certificate we will authorise its approval.”

He added that the application should be submitted alongside evidence that the house had been completed over five years ago, such as a Google photo.

In a response to Alderman Tommy Nicholl’s question on the Environmental Health implications, a planning officer said that Environmental Health had been consulted in 2005 by the legacy Carrick office.

“Environmental health had raised concerns over the potential risks posed by land contamination in respect of infilling of lands in the northern portion of the site,” she stated.

“Environmental Health asked for a risk assessment to determine if there was any risk. A report was produced after the site had been built and occupied.

“It had several shortcomings.”

The officer said that this report had failed to “ensure the risks had been adequately addressed.”

UUP Cllr Andrew Wilson described the situation as “quite a saga” which had been “going on for years and years.”

He said he was “amazed” that conveyancing lawyers had not played a bigger role in the process “earlier on.”

In response to a question from Cllr Wilson, Mr McGuinness said he “didn’t realise that there was a residents’ association” for the site and that there had been “no discussions with a particular community group.”

Reflecting on the issue of contamination, DUP Cllr Paul Reid asked if there would be implications for council “further down the road” if approval was given.

Mr McGuinness responded: “If approval is given and issues do arise questions will be asked as to why we would give permission for something where it was made known that issues are still outstanding.”

Mr McGuinness said that the planning fee to obtain a CLUD certificate was £800, to which Cllr Nicholl responded that it would be cheaper for residents to “do the borehole testing and give the results to planners.”

Alliance Cllr Robert Logan asked how the issue would be resolved “if they bore down and find something.”

“In some ways if I was a resident I would prefer not to know if there is contamination that is suspected,” he stated.

The report presented to councillors described a 2009 contaminated land report as “unsatisfactory” as it did not “target the areas of most concern” at the northern portion of the site, did not assess soil samples against industry standard criteria and did not comprehensively assess the risk posed by ground gas.

Despite a “compromise sampling strategy” being agreed with the agent in 2010, it states that this information was not provided.

A geotechnical investigation by Stratex and building control indicated fill material across the site at depths of between two and six metres.

The report notes that “there is no documentation to show that ALL fill material was removed from across the site.”

It claims that the agent was “unwilling” to provide sampling and monitoring locations outside residences, and recommended that permission be refused “due to the unknown risks posed by contamination.”

The report quotes a response by agent for the case, Mr Sam Thompson, who states that “all fill material was removed from the site,” and that building control “did not report any fill material of bad ground material” during inspections of the foundation excavations.”

He added that the “brick fragments, concrete, organic material, plastics, electric wire and wood” had been removed and the made-up ground was “formed using imported clean stone.”

Mr Thompson said that testing had revealed “no indication of gas emission” at the site and described further gas testing as “disproportionate and not justified.”

He added that the developer had attempted to comply with testing requirements but residents had refused to admit the testing rig.

Cllr Stephen Nicholl’s proposal to defer the decision for a month was defeated.

Cllr Logan’s proposal, seconded by Cllr Reid, to accept the recommendation to refuse planning permission on the grounds that “insufficient information has been submitted by the application to determine the risks posed to site users due to potential contamination on site” was passed.

A council spokesperson told the Times that a CLUD certificate “sets out a procedure whereby a developer / owner may formally establish whether what has already been done or what is proposed to be done is ‘lawful’ in that no planning permission is required and no enforcement action may be taken.”

He added: “The legislation associated with a CLUD provides a mechanism for establishing the planning status of a land or building. It does not replace planning permission. Once the relevant planning authority issues a certificate of lawful development it may be used to ensure a property sale can go ahead.”

The spokesperson added that the houses were “immune from enforcement action as they have been constructed for a period greater than five years” therefore there is “no mechanism, within a planning framework, to pursue the developer for erecting these dwellings without planning permission.”