The Save the Market campaign is a grassroots campaign which was established in 2017 to fight for the rights of the people of one of Belfast’s oldest communities, to ensure it not only survives but thrives in the city they helped to build. The campaign was formed by local residents who opposed Belfast City Council’s decision to approve a 14 storey development on the Stewart Street site.
The site is located at the junction of Stewart Street/East Bridge Street and West of Central Station.
Legal Battle Won!
Justice prevailed in the High Court on the 24th of May where the decision to approve the monstrous office block was ruled unlawful by Justice McCloskey.
Whilst it was evident from the outset that authorising a 14-storey skyscrapers within a 2-storey residential area was flawed, the judicial review could only examine the legality of how the decision was made by Belfast City Council. Justice McCloskey highlighted two main grounds of legal objection.
Firstly, the Planning Committee failed to consider the relevant statutory planning document that outlines the plan for the city. They wrongly took BMAP into account rather than BUAP, which was the legally adopted document.
It was also noted that the Committee failed to properly consider the Planning Appeals Commission’s recommendation that land be designated for social housing.
Indeed, the Council’s lack of full investigation as to the impact of the skyscrapers was the theme throughout the judgment. It was noted that several grounds of objection were voiced to the Council before the decision: segregation of residents from the city; blocking access to the Tunnels Project; intrusion on homes; loss of light; noise; increased traffic and parking compromising safety; excessive office space in Belfast, the desirability of social housing and 231 written objections.
It was then noted that Council were to consider these objections during a site-visit. This lasted a mere 45 minutes and the report on it was ‘sparse in detail’. While this was not grounds for legal objection, it provides clear insight into the Council’s operation as planning permission was still granted.
“The record, sparse in detail, notes that the visit had a duration of 45 minutes. It contains nothing else of significance” – Justice McCloskey.
Justice McCloskey therefore rightly concluded that the planning decision was unlawful. The decision was formally quashed and annulled the following week.
The Remaining Threat
Whilst the judicial review was successful, quashing a decision only cancels the Council’s previous planning permission – which means the developer can bring the exact same scheme back to planning.
As was expected, the developer has resubmitted his application to build the skyscrapers on the site to the BCC Planning Department. The community only became aware of this after a letter was hand delivered to the MDA by the BCC Legal Department. This means that the BCC planning officers had been meeting with the developer after the ruling, while making no attempts to engage with the community after their opposition to the skyscrapers was vindicated in court.
We must remain mobilised and vigilant on these issues. As a community, we won the legal battle. If we remain active and organised, we will ensure that the site is developed in a way that benefits the Market.