Controversial flats get the green light

A Bangor seafront apartments plan can go ahead after a church won its battle with planners.
King’s Fellowship Church on Seacliff Road was refused permission for the scheme two years ago, after a huge local outcry over the idea.
That refusal has now been overturned by the Planning Appeals Commission, meaning King’s Fellowship can go ahead with its construction plans for a four storey block of 17 flats.
But church officials lashed out at the delay, stating that the time and expense of having to appeal caused them to lose out on a new home in the Balloo area of town – which was the entire reason for the apartments scheme in the first place.
Last week, the Spectator reported that the church had won permission for six townhouses on the Seacliff Road site, a return to an earlier and less controversial plan, but was still awaiting the outcome of an appeal against the flats being refused.
Now King’s Fellowship has won that appeal, with a commissioner judging that Ards and North Down Council was wrong to refuse planning permission back in 2020.
The scheme had enraged nearby residents when it was originally filed, with 80 people lodging objections to it while arguing that the four-storey project was too large and too high-density, out of keeping with Seacliff Road’s Victorian townhouses, and would damage the character of the area.
The council’s Planning Committee agreed, but appeals commissioner Mark Watson has now overruled the council’s decision and granted permission for the 17 apartments.
Although the commissioner conceded that the apartments wouldn’t be the same as nearby housing, he pointed out that a bid to have Seacliff Road’s built environment protected in an Area of Townscape Character (ATC) is still only at a draft stage and so lacks the legal weight and status of a fully implemented ATC.
A major opponent of the plan was the nearby Royal Ulster Yacht Club, who worried about the visual impact the scheme could have on its Grade B1 listed building and grounds.
However the commissioner pointed to the yacht club as evidence that buildings that don’t match Victorian townhouses are permissible in the Seacliff Road area, stating that the club has a red brick ‘Tudorbethan’ design that ‘in a strict sense is at odds’ with its neighbours.
Stated Mr Watson: “Whilst the [flats] would possess a more contemporary appearance than some of its neighbours, I am not persuaded that the proposed design and materials of the building would read as discordant against the more traditional buildings in the vicinity, given the variety of materials already utilised in the locality.”
The commissioner also pointed out that experts hadn’t flagged up any concerns about the apartments’ impact on the listed yacht club – and said that the position of the yacht club’s grounds mean the church site has an ‘island nature’, separated from much of the nearby built environment.
The council hadn’t properly considered that island nature, he stated, and due to it he was ‘not persuaded that the development would present as an obtrusive feature in opposition to the existing streetscene’.
Mr Watson added that the church’s location, at the corner of a junction between Seacliff Road and Ward Avenue, means the site has what he described as ‘a transitional role’ between Victorian townhouses on one side and open Kingsland recreational grounds on the other.
“The height and massing of the building are such that it would not present as overly dominant or unacceptable given the site context,” he said, adding that the apartments would not be ‘an egregious feature in the streetscape’.
Although the commissioner acknowledged that the apartments would be higher density than Victorian townhouses, he judged that to be permissible given the island nature and transitional role he’d mentioned.
Dismissing concerns about increased traffic in the area, Mr Watson approved the development, though he did place some restrictions on the design and materials that can be used in its roof.