Anger as £500 million plan on hold

Developers who are planning a new £500 million mixed use neighbourhood at Blaris in Lisburn have hit out at the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon for ‘stalling’ the development and failing to make a decision on the major planning application.

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure has said the application “would benefit from further scrutiny by the Department” and that a decision would be made “as soon as possible.”

The proposals by developers, Neptune Carleton LLP, comprise 1300 new homes, including 130 affordable homes, a new neighbourhood shopping area, over 750,000 sq. ft. of commercial floorspace and a £15 million developer funded, 1.6km road and bridge over the River Lagan to connect the M1/A101 road corridors at Sprucefield, to a new junction at Moira Road/Knockmore Road.

The planning applications were lodged with Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council in November 2018 and were approved by its planning committee in April 2021.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th May 2020 - Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon during the daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Wednesday. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Due to the nature of the application, which is said to have “regional and sub-regional issues”, the Department for Infrastructure notified Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council (LCCC) that it intended to ‘call in’ the application to be considered by the Minister.

“The Directions were given to Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council on January 4, 2022,” explained a spokesperson for the Department. “Section 29 allows the Department (DfI) to refer (‘call in’) planning applications for development to itself for determination and is a fundamental part of the two-tier planning system that has been operating in Northern Ireland since April 2015.”

Neptune Carleton LLP, say the ‘call-in’ procedure would “wholly undermine the principle of major planning decisions being determined by locally elected Members of Council planning committees” and has accused the Department of preventing hundreds of millions of pounds of investment within the city and the realisation of huge economic benefits, a vital boost to an effective economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID pandemic.

The company has said that it has continued progressing the detailed design of the new link road with DfI Roads and has secured the necessary funding, on the basis of making a construction start on the road in the first half of 2022 but has warned that this is “now in doubt.”

Director of Neptune Carleton LLP, Mr Patrick Heffron said: “We have worked very hard over the last five years to secure LCCC’s planning committee approval for these hugely important infrastructure and development projects. LCCC conducted an extremely professional, thorough, and robust examination of the applications which were then subject to a Pre-Determination Hearing and full consideration by the Planning Committee. The applications were strongly supported by both the locally elected public representatives and the community.

“This is a scheme that has the potential to deliver around £500 million of economic benefit to the local economy and community over the next 10 to 15 years and it seems amazing to me that DfI seem to have no interest or imperative to see it happen. We have waited eight months now for a response from DfI and have heard nothing of note. We recently asked to meet the Minister to seek an update and express concern at the delay. Remarkably, Minister Mallon resisted a meeting and could not even offer any indication as to when DfI will release their block on the applications. I have delivered many major property developments in areas across Great Britain over the last 20 years and have never before encountered such a planning process where a Government Department is able to stall such significant applications in this way, with no engagement with either the Council’s Planning Department or the applicant – there seems to be a total disconnection between planning and economic development. It has made me seriously re-assess future investment in Northern Ireland.”

Responding to the developers concerns, a spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure said: “Any decisions to call in an application are only taken after careful consideration and due process. These applications are now within the jurisdiction of DfI. As soon as the Department is in receipt of all the documentation regarding the applications, it will assess all material planning considerations and progress the application for the Minister to decide as soon as possible.”