Jim Allister wins legal challenge against plans for €20m hotel in Portsewart
Judge identifies breaches in the planning process and holds the process was procedurally unfair
Jim Allister’s legal team argued that hotel development was seen as key for the borough and contended that there was a bias towards securing planning approval at all costs.
Mr Justice McCloskey ruled that “Mr Allister was not afforded a fair and reasonable opportunity to make comprehensive, informed representations to either the Planning Committee or the other statutory agency endowed with relevant legal powers, namely the Department for Infrastructure.”
A further hearing on remedies will be listed later this year.
In a statement following the verdict Mr Allister said: “I greatly welcome the decision of the court, after careful scrutiny, to the challenge I brought as a private citizen against a planning decision by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
Together with a neighbour, he sought a judicial review after permission was given for the development close to their homes. In March 2018 the Council granted planning permission for a hotel and spa complex on the Ballyreagh Road.
The project also involves conference and banqueting facilities, holiday cottages, a restaurant and visitor attraction centre for the North West 200 motorbike races. Nearly 100 full-time jobs, generating almost £2 million in salaries, would be created, it was claimed.
With up to 50,000 guests expected annually by the third year of operation, the court heard projections they could spend around £6 million per annum in the local economy. In a dramatic development earlier in the case, independent councillor who sat on the planning committee which approved the resort dramatically intervened to claim he had covertly recorded relevant conversations with officials.
Padraig McShane said he had amassed hours of material. Based on those alleged conversations and emails, Mr Allister’s legal team argued that hotel development was seen as key for the borough. They contended that there was a bias towards securing planning approval at all costs. However, the judge said: “I am left with no misgivings about the purity of the conduct and motives of the planning officials and the Planning Committee members.”
During the hearing it emerged that a right-of-way at the site near was sold to the developer for £1. Amid press reports that the access route had been separately assessed as worth more, it was stressed that an independent expert agreed with the valuation carried out on behalf of estate agents Philip Tweedie & Co.
In a full vindication of the firm, the judge emphasised: “The court has no hesitation in concluding that the reputation of Philip Tweedie & Co emerges unblemished from these proceedings. “There is not the slightest indication of any impropriety on the part of either Mr Tweedie or any member of his firm.”
Mr Allister mounted a wide-ranging challenge to the planning permission, including claims that the environmental screening process for the proposed coastal location was flawed. His legal team also contended that the Council used the wrong criteria, and should have considered the application under a policy for a larger-scale tourism attraction. Despite dismissing some grounds advanced, Mr Justice McCloskey ruled for him in four areas. He confirmed: “The applicants’ legal challenge succeeds on the grounds of procedural unfairness, breach of the Planning Committee’s Protocol, error of law in respect of Policy CMP3 and breach of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations.”