Ex-minister to challenge flats plan in High Court

Ex-minister to challenge flats plan in High Court

6 December 2017

A FORMER Stormont Environment Minister has won the legal right to challenge a decision to approve the construction of social housing apartments next door to his Crossgar home.

Dermot Nesbitt was last week granted leave to seek a judicial review of Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s decision to approve the development at the Downpatrick Road.

Mr Nesbitt, who is mounting the challenge as a self-litigant, served as Environment Minister in 2002 and during his period in office determined a number of major planning applications in Northern Ireland. 

He claims outline permission for development on the site at the Downpatrick Road was given in “breach of planning policy” and the former South Down Ulster Unionist MLA argued there had been a failure to consider concerns that it would set an undesirable precedent.

Proceedings were commenced after the local authority’s planning committee gave the go-ahead to developer Choice Housing Ireland Ltd in June.

The proposed scheme involves the construction of a single storey block of four two-bedroom apartments destined for social housing, together with access and parking, on a currently unoccupied site in a state of extreme disrepair. It forms part of a line of detached residential properties and adjoins Mr Nesbitt’s home.

Ruling on a preliminary stage in the High Court challenge, Mr Justice McCloskey rejected contentions on the issue of setting an undesirable precedent.

“The assertion that this factor was disregarded is bare, unsubstantiated assertion, evidentially untenable,” the judge said.

However, he held that Mr Nesbitt had established an arguable case on alleged failures to consider the pattern and form of the proposed development, in contravention of planning policy.

“I am satisfied that this ground of challenge overcomes the leave threshold,” he confirmed, and the case will proceed to a full hearing in February next year.

Mr Nesbitt also sought a protective costs order to limit the bill he could face if he ultimately loses, stressing the environmental consequences of the planning decision.

Rejecting that application, the judge said: “The assertion of major impact on the environment is manifestly without foundation.”

Outside court, Mr Nesbitt explained his reasons for taking legal action were not a matter of opposing apartments and social housing per se. He said it was that the apartment development did not comply with planning policy in the area.