Outline proposals for a mixed-use development on the site of the former police station in Markethill are finally to be recommended for approval.
It is two years since proposals were first submitted to Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council for consideration.
Armagh I first revealed details of the application by RHAS Properties to transform the site into an all-encompassing retail/commercial space, with a café on the main Mowhan Road – opposite the JD Hunter supermarket.
It was to be built on the site of the former police station and livestock yard.
Demolition has already taken place on any remaining derelict properties on the site.
But the plans have, on several occasions, made it to the planning committee and failed to win approval.
Councillors have endorsed previous recommendations by planning officials that the outline planning application as it stood should not be allowed to proceed.
The livestock mart had been vacant since October 2013 with the old police station being used as a temporary car park.
The application – first lodged in September 2019 – was for the “redevelopment of site to provide retail/commercial space, shop extension, cafe, community business unit and associated car parking”.
After much consideration, planners recommended in March this year that the application be turned down.
Their reasoning centred around drainage and flood risk assessments.
The application came back again before the committee two months later and there had been no change to that opinion.
And once again the lack of a flood risk assessment meant council was bound by government policy to reject the proposal, despite everything else being in its favour – much to the astonishment of the applicant.
Harry Porter of HPA Architects – speaking of behalf of the applicant – said then that council was “unfairly penalising” his client.
“This is unreasonable that my client should pay for this assessment because Rivers Agency did not deem it necessary to carry out, in their standard, a risk assessment like they have in other towns,” Mr Porter told the May sitting of the planning committee.
“If it wasn’t important enough to be a risk then why is it now? It’s no wonder because there has been no flooding here, or any evidence of flooding here, in over a hundred years.
“I don’t see why my client should be penalised into paying for a full flood risk assessment despite the fact he is not adding one drip of water to the system.”
The estimated cost of a flood risk assessment is in excess of £10,000, but planning official Kevin Gillespie argued that with planning permission in place the value of the site would naturally increase and the “uplift is exponentially greater than the cost of a flood risk assessment”.
Chair of the committee, Councillor Darren McNally, agreed that the project was a “very exciting one for Markethill”, but added there was “no getting away from the fact we need a flood risk assessment for this site”.
There had been real concerns that the application could fall through but DUP Alderman Gareth Wilson asked for the decision to be deferred, essentially keeping plans alive.
During the intervening time period, a detailed flood risk assessment was ordered and carried out by McCloy Consulting, a specialist firm of water and environmental consultants.
The detailed 59-page report was presented to planning officials in August and the last piece of the jigsaw has been under consideration since that time.
Now planning officials – having studied the paper requested – are satisfied with its contents.
And, for that reason, they are now recommending that the application should be given the backing of the council’s planning committee.
That is the opinion which will go to the next sitting early in November and it is expected to be agreed without objection.
This will leave the applicant in a position to bring back more firm proposals in relation to the site – putting ‘more meat on the bones’, so to speak – with a full planning application to follow.