Tuesday, 27 March 2012

DOE Minister Attwood and the Carry On Up Torr

Environment Minister Alex Attwood today responded to the customer satisfaction survey for DOE Planning. 

Mr Attwood said: "As planning minister I shall be judged and judge myself on simplifying planning, faster planning, more robust enforcement, more sustainable planning and protection and positive development of our wonderful built and natural heritage. This survey confirms good satisfaction with planning but planning, DoE and I as Minister need to stretch ourselves further. .. Build.ie 27 March 2012

Events at Torr in the north-east corner of County Antrim, even since the Minister came into office, indicate that not only is the DOE operating at a very low baseline but, with staff and other resource reductions, things are likely to get even worse.

The Torr saga continues in the style of a television soap-opera. Even as I compile this blog I find the Planning Service website is down and the following message is displayed, "Server Error in '/PublicAccess' Application."

Fortunately, I'd saved a copy of this Road Service reply earlier today:

The following comments relate to the submitted block plan dated 21st March 2012:

1…The comments made on the Roads Service consultation dated 25th January 2012 have not been addressed as the plan appears to be an enlargement of the O.S. map.
All new boundary fences, pedestrian access and road gulley along the site frontage should be detailed.

2…As previously advised, it would appear that the proposed building at the bend will encroach into the existing grass bank.
This is why a block plan based on a topographical survey was previously requested.

3…The drainage at the proposed access has not been provided as previously requested.

The Roads Service is obviously having difficulty communicating its message to the agents. The new drawings appear to differ little from the earlier ones.

Can the Minister's officials hold the line even in a small-scale project? They failed to stop the destruction of part of our ancient heritage; they accepted designs which bear no resemblance to earlier styles in this Area of  Outstanding Natural Beauty and they issued retrospective planning permission for a building that was not built according to the terms of the earlier permission; and they've accepted planning requests for single builds in what is a multiple development. Will they be able to resist the pressure for an 'infill' dwelling on a spot where an old dwelling was permitted to remain for storage only? And the reason given: 'to ensure that the proposed development does not result in the creation of an additional dwelling'.

Added September 12, 2012

E/2009/0314/F - #72 Torr Road, Ballycastle :: decision granted 5 January 2010

2. The construction of the dwelling hereby permitted, including the clearing of topsoil, shall not commence until the existing building [#72 Torr Road], coloured green on the approved plan (Drawing No 01) date stamped 09-SEP-2009 is demolished, all rubble and foundations removed and the site restored and the 33.0m forward sight line provided.

Reason: To preserve the amenity of the area and to prevent an accumulation of dwellings on the site and in the interest of road safety.

3. This permission is granted solely as a substitute for the permission for a dwelling previously granted on the site under Ref: E/2004/0186/F on the 10th August 2004 and E/2007/0110/F on the 31st May 2007 and only one dwelling shall be constructed on the site.

 Reason: To ensure that only one dwelling is constructed on the site in accordance with the Department's Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland.

Earlier layout proposal for a single dwelling.

Perhaps the Minister will ask his Planning Service officials to explain how a single dwelling (plus garage) back off the road has morphed into three dwellings on the side of the road forming an L-shape at a sharp bend despite the clear decision announced in January 2010. 

Do we have a two-tier planning service? Should those applicants who've not received the same generosity of treatment from the Planning Service now seek recompense?

Added September 14

The following is part of a message that has just been passed to NALIL blog:

"I suspect you know about the Prehen Wood debacle. Work has now started on the site. An access road has now been built which goes for over 150 yards through Prehen Wood to access the development. The 4, 6 bedroom houses impinge into the woodland." 

It seems that Minister Alex Attwood was powerless to intervene. Is it not long past time that an inquiry was carried out into the mechanics of the Planning Service decision-making process to ensure equality of treatment for all applicants?

Added September 18

Anna Lo, chair of the Committee for the Environment, and the Foyle Branch of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland have both issued press releases in relation to Prehen Wood.

This map clearly shows that Torr clachan in the townland of East Torr is in the Fair Head Landscape Character Area.

Added October 11

'Suburbia' fears: "The Planning Minister has been asked to intervene after a property developer was given permission to build a third house on a controversial site at Torr Road"

[to be continued]

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Ballycastle Community Development Group

Knitting the Fabric of Society

Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women's Own magazine, October 31 1987"

"I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."

I disagree. Margaret's comments appear to be a reaction to the rights culture whereas surely in the best of societies there's give and take, there's a balance between rights and responsibilities. It was my pleasure and privilege to be part of Corrymeela and the Junior Council of Social Services (JCSS) where, although the emphasis was on giving, there was a real bonus in receiving. As a friend - now in middle age - put it, "JCSS - four letters that changed my life." Corrymeela's founder, Ray Davey, certainly changed my life.

Robert Putnam (2000):

"Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital."

Ballycastle Community Development Group has been formed very recently. This is a group set up 'so people can exchange views on whats going on in Ballycastle and what they would like to see to improve the town' and hopefully see some of the ideas translated into action. It deserves a following wind.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Public Service and Public Commitments - Northern Ireland Style

When Moyle District Council committed itself to the Model Publication Scheme in 2009** it was obliged inter alia:

  • To produce and publish the methods by which the specific information is made routinely available so that it can be easily identified and accessed by members of the public. 
  • To review and update on a regular basis the information the authority makes available under this scheme.

This image shows that the Council is well behind the times when it comes to keeping ratepayers and the general public up-to-date on Council business. The absence of a member of staff is not a sufficient excuse for a failure to honour the above commitments.

An old friend brought my attention to the failure of the Department for Regional Development to keep its website up-to-date.

Regular NALIL readers will know that Calmac/Rathlin Ferries Ltd last ran the Ballycastle/Rathlin ferry in June 2008! Perhaps the DRD is still paying part of the public subsidy to Calmac/RFL; this would explain the large and growing hole in the Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd accounts.

** Moyle DC has published Version 1.0 even though Version 2.0 was available in 2009.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Belfast Telegraph


"Carrying only the best in daily journalism, the Belfast Telegraph has a unique role in the digital age, delivering through its newspaper and website a news and comment daily that reflects the modern Northern Ireland. Its readers are confident, knowledgeable and tolerant. Its writers are authoritative, focused and informed." ..  Belfast Telegraph the greatest media force in Northern Ireland

Most impressive. Sadly, the reality fails to live up to the hype. Here's an item of news from the Belfast Telegraph that reads more like a piece of hype for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board:

"The financial aid has been channelled into improving the sense of welcome and visual attractiveness of tourism areas and into driving up the standard and quality of a raft of visitor attractions, important cultural buildings, tourist information centres, public spaces and activity tourism products across Northern Ireland. ..

As part of the investment towards the Causeway Coastal Route, £379,000 of NITB funding went towards a public realm project at Ballycastle to regenerate visitor sites and neighbouring villages in the Moyle area including Rathlin Island." .. Northern Ireland’s tourism vision is coming to life

Do NITB and its public sector associates have sufficient expertise to be let loose with a public cheque book? Would they have the collective wit to call on the assistance of a stone mason to advise them on a design in stone and any subsequent design alterations? For example, how did a single piece of basalt for a circular stone table become four quadrants in Chinese limestone? It was hardly surprising that one of the quadrants took a tumble as their centres of gravity lie outside the supporting metal substructure! An engineer would also have known that you don't combine a marine quality steel bracket and other types of metal fixings! The circular stone tables are not just of mediocre construction, they're also potentially lethal.

I'm told that the bases for the display panels** were specified as stone yet the display panel support at Coolranny (and all the others) appears to be made of wood. In the example above, rain has produced expansion and the backing has broken away from the metal. The adhesive on a display panel at Granny's Rock beside Ballycastle harbour has also failed and the panel is now attached to less than half its metal support.

What bound the new to the old?

Collapse on a larger scale has taken place at another of NITB's signature projects at the East Strand, Portrush; the second image was taken as reconstruction was in progress.

I wonder if these are the 'vandals' who pushed it over :L 

Added 13 April 2014

** Those who gave freely of their expertise in the design of the information panels aren't, apparently, worthy of mention. To make matters worse, the panel designers chose to ignore hand written corrections to the proofs, in one case omitting the words 'Groups of' which preceded  'Cottages known as clachans formed the farming settlements in the glens' on the Coolranny panel thus exposing the designer's lack of familiarity with her/his subject; clachan was the name given to the settlement of cottages built in stone.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Department for Regional Development (NI) - Weekly Business Review

Decline and Fall

Department for Regional Development (NI) - Weekly Business Review

The Weekly Business Review (and other online documents) used to shed a little bit of light on the internal machinations of part of our public service. Even if tenderers for the Rathlin ferry contract in 2007/8 were not (all) told about the Department's intention to purchase a £1.2 m passenger ferry and a couple of RO-RO ferries at £3.15 m each they could always ferret it out from the online documents - or from Google cache if the Department decided to, er, remove said information from inquisitive eyes.

2008: Rathlin Enquiry - Paul [Priestly] said he had sought clarification on a number of timing issues associated with this issue.

is a little more informative than

2012: Ministerial Issues: Philip Robinson undertook to speak to the Minster (sic) about Rathlin.

In 2008 the then DRD Permanent Secretary appeared to be concerned about the timing of the release of a report into the awarding of the Rathlin ferry contract. The report eventually appeared at the end of the Stormont term in an unsearchable format; I spent a few days making it more user friendly. The Committee for Regional Development STILL hasn't reviewed the report despite concerns raised about procurement.

What was Philip to speak to the Minister about? Are we not entitled to know? Might the short notice suspension of the Canna's Lloyds Register class certificate and the lack of a readily available relief vessel have been on the agenda? Perhaps the failure of Rathlin Island Ferry Limited to submit its accounts to Companies House by December 31, 2011, will merit a mention.

Here's a transcript of some relevant CMAL-RIFL correspondence from 2008.

Bushmills Girls and the BARmuda Triangle

News 2 Me

St. Patrick's at Jake's

Wear green Saturday, March 17 for another three-venue huge throw down event, creating the “BARmuda Triangle” on North Lake Boulevard in Tahoe City. The fun starts at Jake's On The Lake with homemade traditional Irish food all day (full lunch, cafe and dinner menus also served), Happy Hour 4:30-6:30 p.m. and live music with Mark Wilson from 6 p.m. The party continues at Hacienda del Lago (upstairs) with a live band from 9 p.m., and DJ's at Lakeside Pizza (next door) 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Bounce around from bar to bar, Bushmills Girls at all three venues. For more information call 530-583-0188 or visit www.jakestahoe.com.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Coolranny - north of Cushendun

The townland of Coolranny lies four miles north of Cushendun 
on the scenic roller-coaster route to Ballycastle

'corner of the ferns'

The secluded graveyard nestling into the brae

Looking across to Kintyre


Those who like good design and construction 
may wish to look away now.

Wet weather > Expansion > Break away

'Materials that make it happen'

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Holy Trinity, Ballycastle, and the Pursuit of Ugliness

Heritage protection requires eternal vigilence

The 'aircraft hangar' from 2009 was eventually reduced in size to a much more modest scale.

Parishioners were very annoyed in 2009 when they heard of the proposal to 'decommission' the Parish Church of St James on the outskirts of Ballycastle.

Plans have been recently submitted for the erection of another large edifice between Holy Trinity and the Co-Op. The following letter of objection has been posted on the Planning Service website:

Dear Sir,                                                                                         , 

I wish to object to this new planning application relating to Holy Trinity Cottage, immediately adjacent to the Grade A Listed Holy Trinity Church in the Diamond, Ballycastle. 

In March 2011, following lengthy, detailed discussions between the applicant, their architects, Planning Service and NIEA, permission was granted for new facilities adjacent to this important church, which lies at the heart of the Ballycastle Conservation Area and is the dominant feature on the main visitor route into the town. 

The agreed proposal (E/2009/0180/F) included a substantial new parochial hall to the rear of the church.   Other facilities were to be located in a modest, carefully detailed and proportioned building immediately to the south, which was both subservient to, and respectful of, the neighbouring church. 

The proposed new two-storey building (E/2012/0020/F) is neither respectful  of nor proportionate to the fine church, and effectively  removes the sense of unity and cohesion between the church and its ancillary buildings to the side and rear created by E/2009/0180/F. The requested increase in height will result in the building being an even more dominant feature than the approved new hall to the rear of the church, its roof-line in fact reaching the base of the church tower. Its proposed fenestration is ugly and ill-considered in the extreme, and totally unrelated to or respectful  of the fine set of windows along the south aisle of the church. Furthermore, the proposed windows are to be of aluminium, whereas E/2009/0180/F stipulated timber-framed ones. The carefully detailed and attractive stone entrance agreed under E/2009/0180/F is totally absent, and has been replaced by a plain, glazed one of no architectural merit or distinction. The most easterly section of the building is now to be of plain not ashlar render. E/2012/0020/F is thus a retrogressive and inferior substitution for the agreed scheme. 

 I would respectfully ask you to refuse application E/2012/0020/F on the grounds that the proposed new building would detract from the landscape and architectural value of the the Conservation Area as it does not meet all the criteria set out in PPS6 Policy BH12, and contravenes PPS6 policy BH1 in that : 

the detailed design does not respect the Listed Building in terms of scale, height and massing, 

the works proposed do not make use of traditional or sympathetic building materials."

The Planning Service labels the building Trinity College, Station Road whereas it is Trinity Cottage, Station Street.

I've been sent a copy of a second objection; it will appear on the Planning Service website later:

"Dear Sir,

I am writing to raise objections to the above application. 

The development proposals which were approved previously were an acceptable compromise, despite enclosing the church to the south and east. The previous proposal did at least leave a reasonable open view of the church from the south.

The newly proposed building is, in my opinion too tall for the site and will overshadow Holy Trinity church. 

Architecturally it is more representative of a 1960s factory or office block. The stone parapet fails as an architectural link with the beautiful Georgian church. Put simply, there is nothing of architectural merit in these proposals.

Furthermore I believe that this application, when combined with part of the previous approval, is excessive overdevelopment of a very small site, sitting as it does, alongside the public thoroughfare of Station Street. 

I would also question the adequacy of the provision of on-site private parking space."

Er, Holy Trinity Cottage is in the heart of the 

The intention is to demolish the single-storey Holy Trinity Cottage 
and replace it  with a two-storey building on a larger footprint. The 
new building  would be higher than the two-storey building by the 
church gate and the planned new hall.

View from Co-Op

"I see that it is proposed to remove a considerable section of the churchyard wall.

Not only do I think this is unnecessary, but I would like to point out to you that this wall is all that remains above ground of a number of fortifications which stood on this site. We know of at least two MacDonnell castles.

This section of wall should not be removed. It is of considerable archaeological interest and any removal should be from necessity and undertaken by a team of archaeologists.

Great efforts are being made to improve awareness of Ballycastle's heritage both locally and nationally. The NITB have taken steps to promote our heritage with an emphasis on future archaeological discoveries.

Ballycastle's Cultural and Economic future is dependant on the way we present our culture and heritage to overseas guests. It is essential therefore that every aspect of our heritage is protected.

Within the last few years I have had the privilege of showing a team of archaeologists from the NIEA and the University of Ulster around Ballycastle. I showed them the remains of a Tower House to the rear of the Georgian Courthouse on Castle Street, one remaining wall of a military block house in Clare Street, the excavated 1metre wide wall in the Diamond, (with an adjacent well dated 1450), and this castle yard wall.

Their conclusion was that all these structures dated from a period prior to 1620 and warranted further investigation, as they believe that together they establish that Ballycastle was one of the five Civic Towns established by the Earl of Antrim in the early C17th. The others were Dunluce, Ballymoney, Clough and Glenarm.

There is little doubt in my mind that when funds are available for archaeological investigation, that the mound upon which the churchyard stands will be found to be a Norman Motte which itself may well be sited on a Celtic Dun."

NIEA Ref:       HB 05/14/001

Date Consulted:      16/02/2012
Date of Response:  09/03/2012

The revised proposal has been assessed by a NIEA Historic Buildings Unit. The opinion is that the increase in ridge height above what was  earlier agreed is excessive and the proposed alteration should not be approved.

Issued on behalf of 
NIEA: Historic Buildings Unit

NIEA: HMU ref.:  SM11/1 ANT 08:135
Date:   08.03.12

Please refer also to our previous comments respect of application E/2009/0180/F, issued from this office on 18.01.11.

NIEA: Historic Monuments Unit notes the amended plans for this proposal.  Further to our previous responses and email correspondence, NIEA: HMU advises that any approval for this proposal must be conditional on the agreement and implementation of a developer-funded programme of archaeological works, to identify and record any archaeological remains in advance of new construction, or provide for their preservation in situ, as per PPS 6 Policy BH 4.  The attached conditions would be appropriate in this case (L15 & L05A).

Please ensure that advice / conditions** are attached to any approval decision.

Issued on behalf of
NIEA: Historic Monuments Unit

** These are of no value unless they are enforced!

Letters of support or objection should have arrived at Planning Service by March 7.