18 month wait and still no planning permission



By Iain Gray

A HOLYWOOD couple has claimed council bureaucrats have trapped them in limbo for a year-and-a-half, waiting for a green light to build their dream home.

Richard and Emma Finlay want to demolish a derelict property on the town’s Demesne Road to build a new house, but say they’ve been forced into rental accommodation as council officials have taken more than five times as long as they should to sign off on the move.

The couple filed their planning application in December 2022. Government targets say it should have been dealt with in 15 weeks or less; almost 80 weeks later, there’s still no sign of the Finlays getting a green light.

“Every time we sort out one objection, officials pop up with another and we’re back to square one,” says Richard.

“It’s now down to a dispute about the colour of bricks we’re allowed to use. We went to the planners putting options to them and they promised we’d have an answer by the end of May, but we’re still waiting to hear their verdict.

“We can’t believe this has dragged on so long, we thought this would be a relatively straightforward and routine application, and so did our architect.”

An Ards and North Down Council spokesman blamed objections from third parties for the delay, specifically citing a survey to check if bats were in the derelict property that took several months to carry out.

But that still leaves the Finlays, in their words, living in limbo – and the spokesman still didn’t offer any time frame in which their planning ordeal might come to an end.

“The ongoing uncertainty has significantly impacted our lives,” says Richard.

“The escalating cost of building materials and the mental strain of living in limbo are taking a toll on my family’s well-being.

“Our personal experience with the planning department has been nothing short of a debacle; the delay is baffling, especially given the minimal issues remaining.

“We have been repeatedly told that our application is awaiting sign-off from a senior planning officer, only to encounter new, seemingly trivial queries. This raises serious concerns about the efficiency of junior planning officers over the past year-and-a-half.

“This derelict property isn’t in a liveable state, inside it’s covered in black mould. We want to replace it with a modern architectural asset that enhances the neighbourhood’s aesthetic appeal, but the planning system is undermining that.”

The council spokesman stated the Finlays’ planning application ‘received several material objections from third parties’ about the design and scale of their dream house.

“Amended plans [were] requested in order to address concerns,” said the spokesman.

“In addition, following comments from consultees, a bat survey was requested due to the proposed demolition of the existing dwelling, which took several months to prepare and determine.

“The planning agent has been liaising with planning officers and we are awaiting the formal submission of amended drawings for final consideration.

“Planning officers will be able to move to determining the proposal to a conclusion once amended plans have been submitted.”