A WAR of words has erupted in Lisburn City Council after DUP members voted to stall a planning application for social housing on the site of the former Hillhall Primary School.
The site has been unused since the school closed its doors in 2007 and Connswater Homes Ltd had hoped to build houses on the land.
The application included plans for 19 social housing units, comprising 15 houses and four apartments, two of which would be wheelchair accessible, as well as landscaped open space, parking and access.
The Planning Service indicated approval for the application this week. However, at a meeting of the Council's Planning Committee, some DUP councillors voiced their objection, with Ulster Unionists criticising their stance.
DUP Councillor Roy Young said he was "disappointed" the application had been approved by the Planning Service and asked for the application to be reviewed by the Planning Service Management Board.
"I have no problem supporting social housing in this city when the need is there but there is no need in Hillhall," he said. "Residents in Hillhall know there will be development on that site but their concern is about the density. Nineteen units are too much."
Mr Young also expressed concern about the impact of additional traffic on what is already a very busy thoroughfare. "The main issues are density and safety,' he added.
Mr Young's proposal to send the application to the Management Board was seconded by Alderman Jonathan Craig, who also asked the council to write to the Minister for Social Development about the scheme. "There is no proven social housing need in this rural area," he said.
Alderman Paul Porter added: "This development is a substantial distance from Hillhall estate and there are concerns about this application.
"This is being sent to the Management Board to make sure that everything has been looked at. It is not about stopping social housing, it is about the legitimate concerns that residents have raised," he added.
However, Ulster Unionist Councillor Ronnie Crawford hit out at the DUP for deferring the application, saying there was a "vast need" for social housing in the Lisburn area.
"It beggars belief that the DUP are seeking to reverse planning consent for 19 homes on the site of the former Hillhall Primary School," said Mr Crawford. "Some of these homes are particularly designed for people with disabilities.
"The consent has already been delayed by an office meeting at which all the issues were discussed and indeed the DUP's representative on the Housing Council, the highly respected Councillor Jenny Palmer is quoted as being 'extremely supportive of the proposal' but her party seems to have denied her a free vote on the issue at the Planning Committee meeting.
"Indeed the DUP want the Minister to deny funding for the project, thus losing Lisburn many much-needed construction jobs," Mr. Crawford continued. "However Connswater Homes have confirmed to me that the funding is already in place."
He said it seemed the DUP was prepared sacrifice those on the housing waiting list in order to placate those whose objections have been shown to to have no planning basis.
Councillor Jenny Palmer said there was housing need in rural areas of the city. "Housing stress changes from day to day and there is need in rural areas," she said. Alderman Jim Dillon insisted the application did not meet the criteria for referral to the Management Board. "I am a great believer in supporting housing," he said. "I am opposed to this being sent to the Management Board."
The council did agree to refer the application to the Management Board for further consideration.
However, the decision was not unanimous and a recorded vote was held and dissent from a number of councillors was noted.
Following the recorded vote, it was agreed by twelve votes for and eight votes against, to refer the application to the Management Board for further consideration.
Referrals to Planning Management Board revealed
IT has been revealed that over the last twelve months Lisburn City Council's Planning Committee has referred 18 planning applications to the Planning Service Management Board.
The Management Board re-examines applications referred by Councils and has the ability to overturn a decision made by the Planning Service.
However, an application must meet strict criteria for the Board to reconsider a decision.
At this week's meeting of the Planning Committee, Alderman Jim Dillon asked for confirmation of how many applications had been referred by Lisburn City Council and how many had failed to meet the criteria for referral.
It was revealed that in the past year 18 applications have been referred to. the Management Board by Lisburn Council, four of which had a decision overturned and fourteen of which were returned to the council because they failed to meet the criteria. It was also revealed that the majority of referrals were for applications for single dwellings.