Carrickfergus seafront apartments refused, despite planners’ recommendation
A planning application for a new 34-apartment block at Carrick’s seafront has been refused.
The decision was made at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Thursday morning despite a recommendation by planners for approval.
Twenty-four objections to the £6m proposal on the site of The Swift restaurant at Rodgers Quay had been received. The premises which are earmarked for demolition have been closed since 2018.
The redevelopment plan is for 26 three-bed and eight two-bed apartments in three four-storey blocks to include carparking and landscaping.
A report presented to the Planning Committee said while Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Roads has been consulted throughout the processing of the application, it was “acknowledged that the provision of carparking will be substandard in terms of the level of provision” but is “content that access arrangements comply with their standards”.
The report notes the proposed apartments are “within the town centre and there are public carparks adjacent to and within close proximity of the site”.
The report also states the Department for Communities’ Historic Environment divisions’ primary concern was to consider the impact of the proposal on Carrickfergus Castle but are “content with the proposed development”.
Paul Duffy, the council’s head of planning, told the committee the proposal is “acceptable in planning terms” and meets planning policy, adding that the location is within Carrick town centre.
Carrickfergus DUP Alderman Billy Ashe, who is not a member of the committee but had speaking rights, told the meeting he has been chairman of the Maritime Area Partnership board which was established to “breathe new life” into the former coal port and surrounding land.
He pointed out that the site of The Swift was allocated for recreation and leisure and to bring in residential development “upsets the balance”.
Knockagh DUP Councillor Peter Johnston, who also had speaking rights, stated that the Area Plan refers to “critical views of the site of the castle”.
He proceeded to talk about the harbour carpark which he said is used by the people of Carrickfergus and tour buses. He expressed concern about the “scale, size and character” of the proposed building.
“I am disappointed if not offended that a plan to domesticate this area has got to this stage,” he added.
In response to a query by committee member and party colleague Larne Lough Ald Paul Reid, he said a decision could “potentially change the character of Carrickfergus for years to come”.
“Once we go from commercial to residential, there is no going back,” he claimed.
Party colleague, Carrickfergus Cllr John McDermott, who told the meeting he lives in the marina complex, pointed out that the land in question is “zoned for recreation”.
“There is no provision in the Area Plan for housing development in the Carrick Marina complex.”
Carrickfergus Ulster Unionist Cllr Robin Stewart stated: “The area of The Swift is not zoned for housing and lies within the conservation area boundary. The site is almost entirely within the conservation zone. It is the wrong development, in the wrong area.”
Tom Stokes, of TSA Planning, told the meeting the applicant purchased The Swift in 2013 and has spent £500,000 on the premises which he said had been “successful for a few years” but despite attempts to reimagine the business, the doors shut in 2018.
He went on to say his client has successfully developed “high quality” housing around the North Coast and apartments in Cultra,
He indicated the proposed development in Carrickfergus is aimed at “downsizers” and its design is to “preserve and enhance the site of the castle” and “after months of discussions, NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) has confirmed they are happy with the proposals”.
He added that the project would create 80 construction jobs and would remove a derelict building.
When asked by Ald Reid if he believed the scale and character was in keeping with the Area Plan, he replied the scale is “entirely appropriate to the harbour area” and “Historical Monuments is happy with the scale, height and materials”.
In response to a parking query by Ald Reid, he said it was “absolutely not” a problem with one space designated per apartment.
Commenting on the scale, Larne Lough Alliance Cllr Robert Logan remarked: “It overpowers the supermarket and the hotel. It does not seem right at all.”
The head of planning told councillors there are other waterfront apartments which range from three to five storeys and the proposal was “visually acceptable”.
He also pointed out that nobody said that the adjacent carparks would be used as an “overspill” parking facility.
Knockagh Alliance Ald Noel Williams indicated that the harbour carpark may be utilised in the future as part of City Deal proposals for Carrickfergus.
He went on to say he did not believe the proposed development would be complementary to the area adding that it would not help congestion at the Marine Highway roundabout.
“Because it is privately owned does not mean that the owner can do what he wants.”
He acknowledged it would be a £6m investment in the town but stated that the “cons outweigh the pros” before proposing refusal of the application.
The application was refused by nine votes in favour, one against and one abstention.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter
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