Planning decision ‘a disgrace for the people of Macedon’ – Councillor Webb

Land at the rear of 67 Whitehouse Park. INNT 46-071-FP
Land at the rear of 67 Whitehouse Park. INNT 46-071-FP

A LONG-RUNNING planning dispute which has cost the council and local ratepayers more than £15,000 looks to have come to an end - for the time being.

In a tense meeting on Monday night, councillors narrowly voted against stalling a planning application for infilling and landscaping work at 67/69 Whitehouse Park.

At the meeting, the Planning Service recommended approving the matter. In considering previous applications there had been issues raised around council-ownership of land and the material used for infilling at the rear of the residential property.

Councillors Billy Webb, Tom Campbell and Lynn Frazer argued that the matter, given its long and controversial history, should be referred to the Planning Service’s management review board.

Senior planning officer John Davison said matters could only be referred to the board if they were exceptional, large scale or had received a large number of objections, “and this matter did not fit that criteria.”

“We can only judge planning applications on the basis of the information provided and there is no reason to hold up this application any longer,” he said.

“I realise there is a controversial history behind this application and a lot of emotion behind this. But the rules are very explicit, I have to take out that emotion and judge the application solely on the facts.

“Were we to judge it any other way we would face significant censure.”

Mr Davison also said the Planning Service had to consider the impact of removing large amounts of land from the site and the potential damage it could cause.

Councillor John Scott accused the planning office of “fudging the issue”.

“In any other part of the borough if someone throws a cigarette on the ground they will face an £80 fine. Yet here we have rubble encroaching on council land and nothing is being done. This has been going on over the past eight years and here the Planning Service has fudged this issue,” he claimed.

Councillor Billy Webb said: “There are a number of issues here, including the environmental impact of this planning application and information provided within it is factually incorrect.

“There is a real good reason for this matter to be deferred and referred to the management board.”

Robert Hill added: “There has been a lot of consultations with various bodies including the Roads Service, Northern Ireland Water and the Environment Agency and if they have no problem with this application then I have no problem with it.”

Alderman Billy DeCourcy said: “I find it amazing that after all these years, all the money that has been spent and all the arguing that has been done this matter can be resolved with just a few amendments to an application. It seems like a terrible waste of time and money.”

Mayor Victor Robinson added: “This has been going on since 2001 - 10 years - and how much has it cost the council?

“Thousands of pounds would be about right. It is ridiculous and should have been dealt with long ago. It is time we move on and grow up and pass this.”

Questions were also raised about the material used to infill the land. However, a spokeswoman for the Planning Service told councillors the NIEA had inspected the site and was satisfied with the material which had been used.

Council Chief Executive, Jacqui Dixon added: “Throughout this matter I have been taking legal advice and will be bringing that to the next meeting of the Policy and Governance Committee.

“This has been a complicated and very technical matter; it is not black and white. At this stage the council should deal with the planning application and then we can be guided by the legal opinion.”

Following a recorded vote a move to refer the application to the Planning Service’s management review board was quashed by 10 votes to eight with one abstention.

Immediately following the vote’s announcement, councillor Billy Webb proposed writing to the Environment Minister.

He said: “This planning decision is a disgrace for the people of Macedon and we should write to the Minister siting this planning failure.”

The garden of 67 Whitehouse Park has been the subject of a long-running controversy over extensive infilling at the site, and the positioning of a fence.

In 2005 an enforcement notice was issued against a Robert McMitchell at 67 Whitehouse Park for unauthorised infilling at the Whitehouse Park site. Significant amounts of clay, stone and rubble had been brought on to the land in order to raise the level of the rear garden extending to land beside Gideon’s Green.

In August, 2006 he was fined £7,500 for failing to comply with that order, which was later reduced on appeal to £3,000.

Councillor John Scott concluded: “I want to know, not for now but at the next meeting, how much this has cost the council and why, when there is rubble on our land, it has not been acted upon.

“Dumping on council property is wrong, no matter what is said.”