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Plan for new £1m hotel outside Ballymena gets the green light

A planning application for a new £1m hotel outside Ballymena was approved at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Thursday morning.

A proposal for a 65-bedroom hotel adjacent to Applegreen Service Station on the A26 Crankill Road and site of the former Fort Royal complex has been given the go-ahead despite a recommendation by planning officers to refuse the application.

The three-storey development would include a lobby, bar and restaurant as well as a car park with 91 spaces and six for coach parking. The site would be accessed at the Applegreen Service Station.

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Paul Duffy, the council’s head of planning, told the meeting that the proposed development is located on a designated “protected traffic route”.

He said that the application had been deferred since last year to allow further discussion with Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Roads.

Mr Duffy indicated there were concerns regarding movements at the junction of the site and A26 and the PSNI has advised it does not support the proposal on “road safety grounds”.

He went on to say the planning department considers that the traffic generated by the development would “prejudice road safety”.

Planning consultant Gavin Rolston told the meeting the proposed hotel would be a £1m investment in the borough and would create a “significant number” of jobs.

“It would be a significant addition to existing tourist accommodation in the borough,” he noted.

He commented that it was “very frustrating” that the Department for Infrastructure “continues to object despite failing to provide an explanation of how they come to their conclusion”.

He noted previous approval for a 6,000 sq ft licensed restaurant on the site which was not constructed. He suggested that the hotel would generate fewer road trips, at 210 trips per day, than a restaurant.

Mr Rolston reported that the traffic data provided by the applicant is “industry standard”and the figures are used “UK-wide and accepted by Roads Service in Northern Ireland”.

“I believe the figures we provided are robust and very clear. DfI Roads have never explained why they do not approve of our figures.”

Knockagh Alliance Alderman Noel Williams queried how the hotel would cause “intensification” of road users.

Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Cllr Keith Turner pointed out the A26 has been “significantly upgraded” since the Fort Royal complex was demolished.

David McQuitty, a Roads Service representative, told the meeting the Department has to “take into account the safety of users” of the protected route, which he described, as “one of the main traffic arteries through the borough”.

Committee vice-chair Coast Road DUP Cllr Angela Smyth asked about peak road usage during hotel check-in and departure times compared to those of a restaurant and suggested that most commuters would have already passed by those times.

She was informed that peak restaurant usage hours “do not coincide” with peak hours of traffic on the road and that hotel trips would “coincide with peak hours on the road more than the restaurant”.

Committee chair Ballymena DUP Ald Audrey Wales MBE quipped: “We must be very lazy hotel bookers.”

Consultant Tim Cousins reiterated that the database on which the user figures are based is the “industry standard used by local authorities throughout the United Kingdom”and he disputed that the hotel would “generate more traffic during peak hours”.

Larne Lough DUP Ald Paul Reid proposed that the committee reverses the recommendation and grants planning permission. His proposal was seconded by Ald Williams and approved by the committee.