Tuesday, 27 March 2012

DOE Minister Attwood and the Carry On Up Torr

Environment Minister Alex Attwood today responded to the customer satisfaction survey for DOE Planning. 

Mr Attwood said: "As planning minister I shall be judged and judge myself on simplifying planning, faster planning, more robust enforcement, more sustainable planning and protection and positive development of our wonderful built and natural heritage. This survey confirms good satisfaction with planning but planning, DoE and I as Minister need to stretch ourselves further. .. Build.ie 27 March 2012

Events at Torr in the north-east corner of County Antrim, even since the Minister came into office, indicate that not only is the DOE operating at a very low baseline but, with staff and other resource reductions, things are likely to get even worse.

The Torr saga continues in the style of a television soap-opera. Even as I compile this blog I find the Planning Service website is down and the following message is displayed, "Server Error in '/PublicAccess' Application."

Fortunately, I'd saved a copy of this Road Service reply earlier today:

The following comments relate to the submitted block plan dated 21st March 2012:

1…The comments made on the Roads Service consultation dated 25th January 2012 have not been addressed as the plan appears to be an enlargement of the O.S. map.
All new boundary fences, pedestrian access and road gulley along the site frontage should be detailed.

2…As previously advised, it would appear that the proposed building at the bend will encroach into the existing grass bank.
This is why a block plan based on a topographical survey was previously requested.

3…The drainage at the proposed access has not been provided as previously requested.

The Roads Service is obviously having difficulty communicating its message to the agents. The new drawings appear to differ little from the earlier ones.

Can the Minister's officials hold the line even in a small-scale project? They failed to stop the destruction of part of our ancient heritage; they accepted designs which bear no resemblance to earlier styles in this Area of  Outstanding Natural Beauty and they issued retrospective planning permission for a building that was not built according to the terms of the earlier permission; and they've accepted planning requests for single builds in what is a multiple development. Will they be able to resist the pressure for an 'infill' dwelling on a spot where an old dwelling was permitted to remain for storage only? And the reason given: 'to ensure that the proposed development does not result in the creation of an additional dwelling'.

Added September 12, 2012

E/2009/0314/F - #72 Torr Road, Ballycastle :: decision granted 5 January 2010

2. The construction of the dwelling hereby permitted, including the clearing of topsoil, shall not commence until the existing building [#72 Torr Road], coloured green on the approved plan (Drawing No 01) date stamped 09-SEP-2009 is demolished, all rubble and foundations removed and the site restored and the 33.0m forward sight line provided.

Reason: To preserve the amenity of the area and to prevent an accumulation of dwellings on the site and in the interest of road safety.

3. This permission is granted solely as a substitute for the permission for a dwelling previously granted on the site under Ref: E/2004/0186/F on the 10th August 2004 and E/2007/0110/F on the 31st May 2007 and only one dwelling shall be constructed on the site.

 Reason: To ensure that only one dwelling is constructed on the site in accordance with the Department's Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland.

Earlier layout proposal for a single dwelling.

Perhaps the Minister will ask his Planning Service officials to explain how a single dwelling (plus garage) back off the road has morphed into three dwellings on the side of the road forming an L-shape at a sharp bend despite the clear decision announced in January 2010. 

Do we have a two-tier planning service? Should those applicants who've not received the same generosity of treatment from the Planning Service now seek recompense?

Added September 14

The following is part of a message that has just been passed to NALIL blog:

"I suspect you know about the Prehen Wood debacle. Work has now started on the site. An access road has now been built which goes for over 150 yards through Prehen Wood to access the development. The 4, 6 bedroom houses impinge into the woodland." 

It seems that Minister Alex Attwood was powerless to intervene. Is it not long past time that an inquiry was carried out into the mechanics of the Planning Service decision-making process to ensure equality of treatment for all applicants?

Added September 18

Anna Lo, chair of the Committee for the Environment, and the Foyle Branch of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland have both issued press releases in relation to Prehen Wood.

This map clearly shows that Torr clachan in the townland of East Torr is in the Fair Head Landscape Character Area.

Added October 11

'Suburbia' fears: "The Planning Minister has been asked to intervene after a property developer was given permission to build a third house on a controversial site at Torr Road"

[to be continued]