Planning permission withdrawn for new £45m Southern Regional College in Co Armagh

Artists impression
Credit: SRC

The granting of planning permission for a new £45m college beside a Co Armagh lake is to be quashed, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Senior judges identified a failure to properly consider the potential harm to any otters at the proposed Southern Regional College site.

With planning policy breaches also cited, Lord Justice McCloskey held that the decision to approve the building project was unsustainable in law.

The verdict represents victory in a legal challenge mounted by a grandmother who lives close to the development location.

Clare McCann brought proceedings after Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council gave the green light to the new college in January 2019.

Campaigners opposed to the campus being built in the area claim it will reduce green space in a public park, and lead to an annual influx of thousands of students.

Concerns were also raised about the potential impact on wildlife, with fears raised that otter activity could be harmed.

At a previous hearing, lawyers for the College insisted no actual evidence of the aquatic mammals classed as a European protected species had been found at the site.

But Mrs McCann's barrister argued that a survey carried out in 2016 was out of date by the time the project was approved three years later.

Apparently contradictory Information contained in a subsequent report for a nearby leisure centre had not been taken into account, it was contended.

Ms McCann appealed after a High Court judge dismissed her initial application for a judicial review.

Ruling on the renewed challenge, Lord Justice McCloskey said the planning decision was not in accordance with policies contained in the Craigavon Area Plan 2010.

He also held that it breached parts of the Habitats Regulations, taking into account inaccurate and incomplete information, and disregarding material relating to the presence of the mammals on the site.

“This translated to a duty to consider all material and factually accurate information bearing on the issue of possible detrimental impact on otters in the event of the proposed development proceeding,” the judge said.

“The conclusion that this duty was not performed is irresistible.”

Making a quashing order, he confirmed: “This court concludes that the impugned grant of planning permission is unsustainable in law.”

Following the judgment Ms McCann’s solicitor, Claire McKeegan, praised the efforts of campaign group Save Craigavon City Park and Lake.

Ms McKeegan said: “Our clients have been campaigning for five years to preserve their park.

“Following the Covid-19 pandemic and all of the health issues society is dealing with due to lockdowns and illness, our green spaces are all the more critical.”

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