Northern Ireland

Gilligan plan approval withdrawn after talks request

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

An application for the controversial Nelson Street development was withdrawn from a city council agenda after a Housing Executive (NIHE) request.

Big Picture Developments Ltd, of which NI Policing Board chairman Barry Gilligan is a director, wants to build 238 flats on the north Belfast site.

On Monday, it emerged that planners had recommended approval for the plan.

It has now been confirmed that planners will hold talks with the NIHE before a final opinion is given to councillors.

'No finalised opinion'

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said that any additional information put forward would be considered before an opinion is put before Belfast City Council's Town Planning Committee.

He added: "This application was on a site which was both an opportunity site and one designated for social housing.

"As such, where the identified social housing unit need has been satisfied then additional private units could also be considered."

Big Picture Developments Ltd acquired the site in controversial circumstances after Mr Gilligan was asked to offer advice to a community group which wanted to build 66 social housing units on the site.

Within weeks Big Picture Developments acquired the site.

The land had been designated for social housing.

Under the conditions of the planning approval, 20% of the apartments would be designated for social housing.

Police investigation

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

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

However, it 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".

After it was discovered, senior staff at the Housing Executive ensured the letter was withdrawn and its original position was reinstated.

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

Mr Gilligan, who denied any wrongdoing, stepped aside from the Policing Board temporarily as police investigated.

He also went voluntarily to police to be interviewed. It followed a police search of his home and the headquarters of the Policing Board.

Big Picture's plans for Nelson Street are for 238 one and two-bedroomed apartments with 200 parking spaces on ground and first floor levels.

It will also feature an elevated landscaped central courtyard.

The planning officer who recommended approval stated that she recognised the site was zoned for social housing but "finds this an element to which weight needs to be attached, rather than a reason for refusal."

Her report adds that Big Picture's planning agent has informed her that the company is still in talks with Clanmil Housing Association regarding the possibility of providing social housing within the development.

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