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Rules ‘look good on paper’ is initial local reaction to guide

By Scott Jamison

Speaking after the launch of the Malone Conservation Area Design Guide last Friday (December 16) at Lisburn Road Library, South Belfast Residents’ Group chair Paddy McCrossan led a restrained chorus from locals greeting the guide.

However, Paddy warned residents have already seen some “false dawns” regarding legislation to protect areas in South Belfast and so would be judging the Planning Service on “substance, not words”.

The new guide has 13 sub-areas that will have statutory protection against development out of character to each area’s unique characteristics. The conservation area stretches from the Lisburn Road to Broomhill and Deramore, and from Wellesley Avenue to Balmoral. Danesfort, Queen’s Elms and the grounds of Stranmillis College have been excluded from the conservation area despite appearing in previous, pre-design guide designation.

However, at the launch, representatives of the Planning Service told attendees a presumption in favour of development still existed in the area, meaning the organisation would permit development in the conservation area provided all the instructions in the guide were met.

Paddy said while the guide “looked good on paper,” it needed to be strongly followed by the Planning Service in order to be effective.

“One of the first things the guide says is it provides statutory protection for the conservation area. That is welcomed very much by residents. It also states developers must understand this guide and take it into account.

“If they have to obey by the policies contained in it, that is a victory for people living in the area. But the fact the Planning Service has admitted presumption in favour of development still exists is a contradiction.

“There can be no way the area can be preserved and enhanced if development is continually given the go ahead. We have been riddled with consultations over the years and the results continually give outs for developers. If the guidance here is not followed strongly, this will be another one.”

However, Paddy said it was good to finally see a confirmed design guide for the conservation area, which was first designated in 2000.

“We need to have this appraisal of the beautiful buildings we have in this area and to show it really is worth maintaining its general appearance,” he said.

“I suppose it is sad it takes a 200-page booklet to show developers and others the standard we have and wish to keep. At least they now know what they have to stick by. While we applaud the intention of this guide, we now await the practice to see what comes of it.”

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