THE redevelopment of an historic home into hotel accommodation at one of Northern Ireland’s most well-known lodgings has been recommended for planning permission despite a number of objections - including a plea from NI Water saying that the sewage system cannot cope.
The McKeever family, which bought the Dunadry Hotel in 2017, are proposing a change of use of existing dwelling (The Mill House) to hotel accommodation including a kitchen, dining area, lounge, drawing room, pantry and storage on the ground floor and five bedrooms on the first floor.
The was occupied by the late Margaret Mooney, matriarch of the family which sold the hotel to the McKeevers five years ago.
She lived out her days in the imposing property in the hotel grounds, which is surrounded by a beautiful walled garden, before her passing in 2020.
The McKeever portfolio now boasts five properties, including the Dunsilly in Antrim and Adair Arms in Ballymena.
The item is due before the Planning Committee of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council this week. The application site is located at Dunadry Hotel and concerns a narrow strip of land along the western side of the larger Dunadry Hotel site.
It comprises ‘The Mill House,’ previously used as a dwelling and finished in stone and white brick, ‘The Cottage,’ a split level 2 storey building and ‘The Beauty Stone’ building which houses a salon.
While there were no objections from most consultees, NI Water recommended refusal.
The report said that 24 neighbouring properties were notified and that 25 letters of objection were received from 13 properties.
Objections included inaccuracies in forms and drawings, increased traffic, inadequate parking, parking spaces labelled as ‘existing’ when they are proposed, misleading description of proposal and plans, noise pollution, impact on quality of life for existing residents and that the proposed development too close to a residential area.
There were also concerns about air pollution from exhaust fumes and increased carbon emissions, light pollution, unauthorised works at the hotel site, anti-social behaviour, loss of privacy, decrease in property value, increased building insurance costs, detrimental impact on NI Water infrastructure, a history of evidence of sewage and flooding problems, impact on bats from noise and light pollution, impact on biodiversity including pollution threat to Sixmilewater and ample space for the proposal elsewhere within the site.
There was also a complaint that comments were sought from tenants - not owners, with short deadlines.
This week, The Six Mile Water Trust environmental group said that it has ‘lost confidence’ in Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Planning Department to act on the expert advice given on planning applications in relation to environmental issues by consultees.
Jim Gregg of the Trust, said: “A recent planning application was made for a hotel complex to increase its capacity by seeking to change a residential home into commercial use with increased footfall.
“Numerous objections have been made regarding the impact to local residents due to a change of use, with a major consultee, Northern Ireland Water clearly stating that the application should be refused as the sewage/drainage network associated with the proposal has no capacity left.
“NIW went further, ‘stating that the public system cannot presently serve this development proposal without significant risk of environmental harm and public dis-amenity including pollution, flooding and detrimental impact on existing properties’ in Dunadry if a further sewage load was added to the local network.
“The same planners have previously set precedents by refusing applications on the same grounds of no capacity being available, which did not even carry the same environmental risk as identified by NIW in this case.
“The Six Mile Water Trust has been working tirelessly for over ten years with the support of hundreds of anglers and members of the public to address numerous pockets of pollution throughout the Six Mile catchment, much of which are attributable to outdated and overloaded sewage and drainage infrastructure.
“Much of this pollution goes unnoticed until a fish kill occurs, which takes the river years to recover from. (1,500 fish killed on the catchment in 2015 which was attributable to sewage due to a pumping station failure).
“The Dunadry Road and Six Mile Water adjacent to the Belfast Road has a known history of problems from flooding and sewage, both on the Dunadry Road and Bleach Green and incidents of pollution directly and indirectly to the river from sewage, fats, oils and grease, otherwise known as FOG due to out of sewer events caused by blockage or an overloaded pumping station.
“In this instance the planners have decided to ignore the advice from NIW to refuse the application on the grounds that the risk was minimal, even though NIW clearly state there is a significant risk of pollution to the environment and local property.
“The Trust has real difficulty trying to understand this apparent disregard by planners on issues that are relevant to the environment from a pollution and habitat perspective and it’s not the first time it has seen major consultees’ recommendations being ignored by this department.
“Back in 2016, an acre of valuable, mature broadleaf woodland adjacent to the river was felled for a private housing development. The Forestry Commission as consultees on the application reported that the application should be refused and the woodland replanted. The planners ignored the advice.
“The Trust questions the planners and the Council’s committees’ ethos on environmental issues and the protection of our valuable natural habitats and wildlife.
“On one hand they seek the advice from expert consultees and then choose to disregard the advice given.
“The Trust notes that planners can override environmental issues where there is a social or economic need. However that condition does not apply to this application.
“It sees the Council promote the virtues of the Six Mile, ‘Antrim Conservation Area’, ‘Lough Neagh Gate Way Centre’ and numerous developments named in relation to the Six Mile Water, and yet it appears to allow the Six Mile Water to be treated as an open sewer.
“With an election campaign in progress, how much emphasis have we seen on environmental issues? Without clean air and water the rest will be insignificant. It should be recognized that the Six Mile Water is the fourth largest feeder of Lough Neagh which provides 40% of Northern Ireland’s domestic water supply!
“The Six Mile Water Trust has over 3,000 followers who value the Six Mile Water catchment, so asks the question on their behalf, who is protecting it?”
A report by planning officers said that the original proposal referred to three dining rooms and a kitchen on the plans and objectors raised concerns that the description of development was misleading and that the accommodation was in reality a wedding venue.
The proposal and plans have been amended throughout the processing of the application and the current proposal involves the change of use from a dwelling to hotel accommodation.
The ground floor is to remain largely as is with drawing room, dining room, kitchen, pantry, entrance hall and lounge in a similar arrangement as the existing dwelling with the addition of a small WC and bag store. The first floor indicates two additional bedrooms and en-suites within the existing building.
The report said that the site is occupied by the existing Dunadry Hotel, which is a lawful development. A number of previous planning approvals on the site exist dating back to the 1990s. The proposed development does not purport to change or introduce a new use onto the site.
Planners said that the proposed change of use is within the existing hotel site and is considered to respect the site context in terms of scale, size and design.
Overall, planners said that the proposal is not likely to have a significant visual impact.
The report said that the proposed hotel accommodation is located within close proximity to several residential dwellings at Bleach Green, the closest at a distance of eight metres from the proposal to the neighbouring boundary. In addition, the access lane runs along the rear of a number of residential properties within Bleach Green.
The report said: “Concerns have been raised through letters of objection that the proposal is located near to the quieter, residential side of the site and that it has been noted that there is ample room elsewhere within the site.
“Concerns were also raised about the potential loss of privacy the proposal will potentially cause and the impact it will have on existing residents’ quality of life.
“Concern has been raised with regards to people walking and driving by being able to look through gaps in the fencing and overhear private conversations.
“It is considered that the addition of 10 persons daily to the site are not likely to have a significantly greater impact in this regard.”
Further objections were raised issues with regards to overlooking from the proposed hotel accommodation., but planners considered any overlooking impact would not be significantly greater than that which currently exists.
The Council’s Environmental Health Section recommended conditions that no amplified music or plant is within the application site boundary.
The report said that some additional noise and disturbance may be experienced from the additional traffic and parking of cars as has been raised through letters of objection, however, the addition of ten people or five cars attracted to the site ‘is not likely to have a significantly greater impact in this regard’.
The report said that the proposal does not indicate any additional lighting within the application site.
There may be some impact from car lights however, an additional five cars to the site is not likely to have a significant impact given the scale of the operations presently within the wider hotel site.
The proposed car parking spaces are indicated on areas of existing hardstanding where cars could park informally at present and therefore it is considered that the proposal will not have a detrimental impact by way of light pollution.
The report said that no evidence has been submitted to demonstrate that the proposal would lead to increased levels of anti-social behaviour, however, if at any time it is considered that anti-social behaviour is taking place at the site this should be reported to the business operator or the PSNI who can investigate.
The application site is located within close proximity to an archaeological monument, but the Historic Environment Division: Historic Monuments has assessed the application and has no objection to the proposal.
In terms of parking, the hotel currently provides
parking to the front of the existing hotel building abutting Belfast Road and on the corner of Belfast Road and Islandreagh Road.
The parking arrangements for the hotel site show a total number of 196 car parking spaces for the overall site which includes the use of areas of hardstanding to the west of ‘The Cottage’ for nine cars, to the north of ‘The Mill House’ for four spaces and one disabled parking space to the west of ‘The Mill House’.
DfI Roads was been consulted and alerted to the objections received and raised no objection to the proposal, however, they have recommended a condition that the change of use shall not come into effect until the hard surfaces currently earmarked fror parking are constructed and permanently marked.
It was considered there is adequate parking for the facility. Inaccuracies on plans and drawings were said to have been corrected.
In terms of concerns raised over sewage, NI Water advised there is a public foul sewer within 20m of the proposed development boundary which cannot adequately service these proposals.
The receiving foul sewerage network has reached capacity and NI Water stated that the public system cannot presently serve this development proposal without ‘significant risk of environmental harm and public dis-amenity including pollution, flooding and detrimental impact on existing properties’.
NI Water said it has no plans within its current investment cycle to upgrade the sewerage system in this area and is recommending connections to the system are curtailed. The report said that while these comments have been noted, the application is for the change of use from a single residential unit to hotel accommodation with the internal changes, including an increase from three bedrooms to five bedrooms within the existing footprint.
In addition, one additional en-suite is indicated within the first floor footprint and one additional WC will be on the ground floor.
The report said: “It is considered that this is a very minor increase within the confines of the hotel site where numbers are likely to fluctuate on a daily basis and the figures provide for the hotel operating at maximum capacity
“The proposed changes are not considered significant, and it is worth noting that the existing residential property could reconfigure the internal arangements and add a downstairs WC and first floor en-suites without the requirement for planning permission.
“For the reasons indicated above it is considered that there will not be a significant additional load and foul sewage discharge as a result from the proposal and it is considered that this matter would not warrant a refusal of the application.”
As regards environmental worries, the report said that the proposal does not involve any loss of vegetation .
It was considered that any additional traffic or persons attracted to the site would be unlikely to have a detrimental impact on wildlife.
It was also raised through letters of objection that there were alleged unauthorised works ongoing at the hotel, a matter which the report said is being investigated.
The originally submitted description of development read “Proposed change of use of existing dwelling (The Mill House) to hotel accommodation” and an objection highlighted that this was misleading as the initial proposal included dining rooms and it was suggested that the proposal could be used as a wedding venue.
This description was amended to “Change of use of existing dwelling (The Mill House) to hotel accommodation including kitchen and dining areas, service and storage on the ground floor and five bedrooms on the first floor” and the plans were amended.
The proposal was re-advertised and neighbours were re-notified. Further objections were received that the size of the dining rooms was unimportant and that the change of use was key.
Objectors raised concerns that if the change from a residential use is granted this could be a wedding venue in the future.
The report said that Council must assess the proposal based on the information provided which seeks permission for hotel accommodation only, however, in order to ensure residential amenity is not adversely affected this can be tightly controlled by a planning condition.
The report said that neighbour notification was carried out as per the regulations and that representations can be submitted and must be taken into account up until the point at which the decision is made. Representations have continued to be made throughout the processing of the planning application.
Concerns have been raised through letters of objection that the proposal will decrease neighbouring property values and that building insurance costs will be greater as a result of the proposal.
The report said: “It should be noted that the impact of a development on the value of property is not generally considered to be a material planning consideration.
“In any case no evidence has been adduced to support these concerns and given the lack of evidence it would be difficult to attribute any significant weight to the issue.”
It has been alleged through letters of objection that a room has been developed on the upper floor of The Mill House and has been used as a conference room for some time, despite the fact that the Mill House has always been designated as a residential dwelling.
In addition, the ground floor of the Mill House has allegedly been ‘gutted and left with wooden floors’ and it has also been queried whether a ‘beauty boutique’ has planning permission. The report said that these matters are being investigated.
A further request has been made for no external lighting, strobes, fireworks and lasers. However officers considered that the application for hotel accommodation does not require such conditions.