Councillors refuse plans for Virgin Media depot expansion in Newtownabbey

A proposed storage facility for a £100m Virgin Media contract in Northern Ireland was turned down by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Wednesday evening.

A planning application for an extension to an existing commercial depot at Ballyclare Road in Newtownabbey was refused by councillors despite recommendation for approval.

Senior planning officer Kieran O’Connell told the committee that 21 letters of objection had been received from six neighbouring properties. Three letters of support were also received by planners.

There were no objections from statutory consultees including the council’s environmental health department.

Ballyclare Road. (Pic by Google).

The officer said that this department has indicated that there is “unlikely to be a detrimental impact on neighbourhood amenities”. The officer said it was important to note an existing building already on the site.

Planning consultant Gemma Jobling said that the proposal “represents a significant economic opportunity” for the borough through a £750k investment through construction  “necessary to deliver a £100m contract for Virgin Media for high speed fibre network” and the creation of 20 jobs with the applicant EJC Contracts Ltd.

The consultant went on to say that Virgin Media contracts require all stock to be delivered ahead of the contract which requires secure storage facilities for cables, poles and other material necessary to deliver a “five-year programme from day one”.

“It is high value and weather sensitive and must be stored internally in a secured and monitored building. Their existing building is insufficient to meet this additional requirement. This is not a noise generating use. It is just for storage.”

Antrim DUP Alderman John Smyth asked if the company had looked at other places.

The consultant stressed that it has to be located on a secure site and she described the proposed location as “an extension to the existing site” and “part of a small agricultural field”.

“It is also a prime location in proximity to the road network.”

Threemilewater DUP Councillor Sam Flanagan inquired about the frequency of vehicle movements at the site. He was advised the contractor would collect equipment each morning.

An objector told the meeting he believed this frequency would “increase significantly” if the application is approved. He said the proposed site is used currently by grazing cows and “does not constitute redevelopment”.

He suggested there are three “more suitable” locations in the vicinity and described development of the proposed site as “a blight on the countryside”.

His wife suggested that it “makes no economic sense at all”. In response to a query from Cllr Flanagan, she claimed it would impact them”massively in terms of noise and the number of lorries with their home “metres from the existing yard”.

The planning consultant acknowledged that a number of concerns have been raised which she explained would be dealt with through the design and a boundary would be put in place.

“It is not beyond the threshold of unacceptable impact. A lighting plan was provided. It is nestled within the lower part of the site.” She also stated that it will not result in “significant movements throughout the day”.

In response to a query by Macedon Alliance Cllr Billy Webb, the planning officer pointed out the policy allows for expansion of existing businesses in the countryside.

Ald Smyth proposed that the committee refuse the application. “It is unacceptable. There is no need for this facility in the area. A storage facility can be got somewhere else.”

The application was refused following nine votes in favour of Ald Smyth’s proposal and two against.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter