Residents call for overhaul of Planning regulations

February 13, 2017

A Planning decision permitting 18 new apartments to be built on a site on the Armagh Road, Newry and which is nearing completion has seriously devalued the property of the homes according to surrounding residents, and  they are calling for a radical overhaul of planning regulations.

An established valuer told residents last week that the value of their homes in Violet Hall Avenue, Clonmore and the Armagh Road adjacent to the development  had plummeted, that their value on the market had slumped  by up to a third.

This development by Warren Properties is on the site of two mature detached family homes which were sold to the developer at the height of the boom and  later demolished. Planning permission for a total of 18  units was granted in 2012 at no 63 and no 65 Armagh Road after earlier successful applications for  a lesser number of units. This was despite relentless objections from adjacent residents who asserted that the development was in breach of every one of the Departments own regulations. They point to the  Planning  Regulations leaflet  which states that Planner’s decisions take into account such issues as loss of sun and daylight, the effect on privacy, overbearing or crowding effect of adjoining development work and noise, disturbance and smells.

In 2013 a new application was made for the erection of a petrol station and shop on the site but work on the former application  for 18 units began last July.

The huge devaluation of their homes is now causing  particular  concern that residents lives have being taken over by events beyond their control, and that their natural rights as citizens are now apparently subject to developers rights.

A resident’s spokesman said- “Surely fundamental rights are at stake. At present we have no court of appeal whatsoever. The Planning laws as they exist seem to be stacked in favour of the developer, but the natural human rights of the established residents to privacy and the value of their property should naturally be the starting point of all planning decision. Our legislators should be the guarantors of such rights in any civilized  society. In fact at present, the devaluation of homes does not even come into the Planners decision making. Existing residents have no rights whatsoever in this regard- which is strange in a democratic society.”

“It seems from our experience that Planners  be able to by-pass their own guidelines by  simply ignoring resident’s objections. But now that final decisions are back in the hands of local Councils we hope that those we elected to look after our rights will take a more enlightened  interpretation  of regulations,  will look into the possibilities of compensation for the devaluation of homes  and call for a fresh examination of planning regulations with emphasis on the natural civil rights of existing residents.”

Maureen Smyth who lives with her husband Charlie at Violet Hill Avenue said she had spent month after month for years writing and phoning to the Planning office, collecting signatures to keep the pressure on but had got nowhere. She has kept a meticulous record of the entire  process and of all the objections made and how their serious complaints had been consistently ignored.

“We find it hard to believe what has happened to us, that this could actually be inflicted on a long established community in this day and age. Our privacy has been taken away from us, our homes are devalued and our lives will never be the same.”

Felix Finnegan and his wife Annie have been living in Violet Hill Avenue for almost fifty years. They point to  a row of windows in the massive new development structure  ten years away  and looking straight down on them.

“That’s only the bottom row. There’s another row to go on top of that and these are all living rooms. Privacy is totally gone at the back of our house.  The view from upstairs is even worse. And what are our homes worth now?”

“We never thought this nightmare would happen to us after fifty years” Annie said. “But the worst of all is the awful sense of depression when we enter our home and see these new surroundings, with huge brick walls and windows everywhere staring out at us, totally overbearing and oppressive. I dread to imagine the value of our house now.”

Mickey Morgan his wife Sinead from Clonmore estate  state that they have to keep the light on  most of the day because the huge retaining structure behind them which has been raised by the developers by five feet rises higher than the roof of their house. The sun is totally blocked off until the late evening. Their bedroom window are skyline, and they now waken up to see the workers above them on the site.

“Not only is our privacy and our light destroyed  and the massive sense of over crowding, but myself and the neighbours have genuine fears of a landslide where the site has been artificially raised. Huge boulders over a ton each have been laid all along the perimeter above me. I tried to get a structural engineer out to check if the raised platform was safe but nothing came of it. We work to buy a home and leave something to our children. But what does this all mean now? What is this house worth now?

Joe Leonard and his wife  who live next door revealed that he and Mickey, Sinead  and neighbours had made every objection possible, collected signatures and protested wherever they could and co ordinated things with Maureen Smyth. He said he had tried to get a Site Meeting with planners to show them what was at stake, but this had somehow fallen through.

“We are just weary of making objections and everything coming to a dead end. We have nobody standing up for us. These have been awful times for us, a peaceful settled community of good neighbours and we are all asking one big question. How was this development allowed? It’s as if there was no law at all. I know that a large number of neighbouring residents, some of whom are elderly and unwell, feel exactly the same way that their lives have simply been ruined.”

Peter Makem on the Armagh Road side stated that from the outset he and his neighbour sat down and made a very detailed series of objections, covering everything, and felt that Roads Service might not even let the development succeed because of the serious problem of access to the Armagh Road  with up to 30 vehicles trying to  get out and in through a single entrance unto  almost bumper to bumper traffic.

“For years the empty site was used by vandals who regularly came over the fence into my garden, smashed the shed on several occasions, stole the lawnmower and whatever they could get their hands on, and made live very unpleasant.  So when the builders arrived on the scene last July after years of a wasteland, I actually took it that they were starting work on a new service station as was their most recent application, and that this would at least stop the relentless vandalism as the lesser of two evils, and in fact mentioned this to the developer. But very soon I realised it was the original planning application for 18 apartments and work was going ahead full steam.”

“From the back of the house, ten first story windows  in the  development which runs all the way  parallel to my fence and a mere five yards distant, commands every inch of privacy into kitchen, living room  and upstairs windows, every inch of the parking space and every inch of the garden. There is literally no hiding place. There is absolute loss of privacy. The sense of “overbearing or crowding effect” is relentless. As well, the plans include  a site for bins for collection just on the other side of my fence facing the Armagh Road. These were concerns that were pointed out in great detail to Planners prior to permission being granted. I know several local builders very well over many years of genuine friendship and they all have a living to make like everybody else. But I would defy any Planning official, builder or architect to stand in my back garden and explain to me how or why this site was allowed to be developed in this way.”

Meanwhile  there is an application by the developer in an amended proposal for two further units on the site and which has had 43 objections submitted to Planning.