By Alan Healy
Derry councillors have reversed a decision to approve a new house after hearing a direct appeal from a local resident to retain the area as a playing space for his children.
The issue first came to light last month after a planning application came before Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Planning Committee, seeking permission to erect a new two storey dwelling at a site adjacent to 106 Hollymount Park in the Waterside area.
At the meeting, it emerged that planners had mistakenly approved the application in 2007 as the result of an ‘an administrative error’, but that planning permission to construct the new house had expired in July 2014.
Planners then recommended that the application now be refused.
However, after hearing from the agent in support of the proposal, a number of councillors went against the recommendation.
After a proposal by Sinn Fein’s Tony Hassan, councillors voted in favour of approving the proposal, despite concerns from planners about the loss of open space.
The planning application came before the November meeting of the council’s Planning Committee, held in the Guildhall on Wednesday afternoon.
After a brief update, a member of the public opposed to the plans was given the opportunity to address the committee.
Brendan McDaid told the meeting that he lived next door to the site of the proposed dwelling, and that it would impact on his privacy and result in the removal of a green space in an area where there was a lack of spaces for young children to play safely.
He told the meeting that his, and his neighbours’ children, had used the green area for playing for many years.
Mr McDaid added that he also took issue with a number of comments made by councillors at the last meeting, including the SDLP’s John Boyle and Sinn Fein’s Tony Hassan.
He said that Cllr Boyle’s comments had been a ‘contradiction in terms’, and that Cllr Hassan had said that similar developments had been approved in the Galliagh and Shantallow.
Mr McDaid said there was not an equal level of green space in Hollymount as there was in Galliagh and Shantallow, adding that that the new development would also impact on his neighbours, who were vulnerable adults.
He continued that with regards to the site where the house was being proposed, that it was maintained by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), not the developer, before adding that if an approval was issued, residents would seek a judicial review.
Mr McDaid added: “I would urge each member of the committee to make decision on what is in front of you.
“I would urge the committee to vote on behalf of the Hollymount community, not the developer.”
He continued: “It’s time for the underdog to catch a break.”
The SDLP's John Boyle proposed that council accept the planning officer’s recommendation to refuse the application.
His party colleague Tina Gardiner said that the development site was ‘very clearly an open space where children play’.
“We have issues with social housing, and this will not solve that problem, it will create problems for the people living there.”
Her comments were echoed by the DUP’s Hilary McClintock who said that while new houses were needed, ‘we shouldn’t deprive people of green space’, before adding: “We should try to rectify the mistake of ten years ago.”
However, Sinn Fein councillor Tony Hassan said that he ‘stood by the decision made at the last meeting’, and proposed that council issue approval for the house.
The matter then went to a vote, with a majority of councillors supporting the refusal.
Speaking to the Derry News after the meeting, Mr McDaid described the decision as a ‘victory for the community and the underdog’.
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