Northern Ireland

Nelson Street development turned down after u-turn by planners

Land at Nelson Street in Belfast
Image caption The planning application was for 238 flats at Nelson Street in Belfast

The Planning Service has changed its decision on a controversial development in Belfast, saying it should not proceed.

In January a planner recommended that the proposal by Big Picture Developments to build 238 flats at Nelson Street should proceed.

Shortly before that recommendation was due to be discussed by a City Council committee, it was withdrawn.

Now the planning service says the application should be rejected.

The decision states it is contrary to the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan.

It says the proposal should be refused on four separate grounds, including a failure to adhere to social housing policy.

The Nelson Street site has long been zoned for social housing.

Controversial

The Big Picture scheme proposed that 20% of the apartments would be designated for social housing.

However, the planners say that proposal "fails to provide an acceptable design, density and mix of social housing to fulfil the identified need in this area."

Big Picture Developments Ltd, of which former NI Policing Board Chairman Barry Gilligan is a director, acquired the site in controversial circumstances.

Image caption Barry Gilligan is a director of Big Picture Developments Ltd

Mr Gilligan had been asked to offer advice to a community group which wanted to build 66 social housing units on the site.

But, within weeks, Big Picture Developments, of which Mr Gilligan is a director, acquired the site.

Police investigation

In March 2010, the Housing Executive asked police to investigate its involvement with the Nelson Street site.

For years, the executive had said the land was designated for social housing.

However, the executive subsequently appeared to change its mind, with one official writing to planners telling them that it was "withdrawing the request for social housing at the scheme".

It is believed this letter formed part of the focus of the police investigation.

After it was discovered, senior staff at the Housing Executive ensured the letter was withdrawn and its original position was reinstated.

Mr Gilligan denied any wrong-doing and also went voluntarily to police to be interviewed. It followed a police search of his home and the headquarters of the Policing Board.

He temporarily stood aside from his role during the police investigation. A new board was constituted after this year's assembly election.

More on this story