THE Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has confirmed that it is to determine if permission granted for transforming Kilkeel’s Mourne Park House into a luxury hotel is allowed to stand. Last March, the council’s Planning Committee unanimously overturned a planners’ refusal recommendation for the proposed 123-bedroom development. However, given that a key statutory consultee – the Department for Communities’ Historic Environment Division (HED) – objected to the plans, the decision was forwarded to DfI, which has now ruled that it will scrutinise it before deliberating on whether or not the development ultimately gets the go-ahead. When contacted by the Mourne Observer this week, a DfI spokeswoman stated that the local authority’s decision had been ‘called in’ for determination, and that ‘directions requiring the referral of the applications’ – one of which is for the development works and the other for listed building consent – were issued to the council last Wednesday. “The department issued the directions in view of the proposed development’s potential conflict with regional built heritage planning policies contained within the Strategic Planning Policy Department to rule on Mourne Park hotel plans An architectural impression of how the transformed Mourne Park House would look. Statement and planning policy statements,” she said. “It is therefore considered to be an exceptional case, and that the regional and sub-regional issues raised would benefit from further scrutiny by the department. “As soon as the department is in receipt of all the documentation regarding the applications, it will assess all material planning considerations and progress the applications to a decision point as soon as possible.” Once a planning application has been called in, it follows the same process route as regionally significant proposals. This could lead to a public local inquiry being called before the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) or the minister issuing a notice of opinion to grant or refuse permission, though the council and applicant can request a hearing before the PAC should a refusal be issued. Plans for the hotel development – submitted by applicant Marion Russell in June 2020 – incorporate a spa, function room and restaurant through ‘change of use and refurbishment of existing listed private residence, and provision of a new build extension’. The planners’ report brought before the Planning Committee in March 2021 advised that the development should be refused on the basis of ‘the size, mass, scale and siting of the new build accommodation’. Representing HED Historic Buildings, Nicola Golden told councillors that “the main issue with the scheme is the new build portion of it”, whilst Andrew Gault of HED Historic Monuments added that issues his department had raised, under policy relating to the protection of parks and garden, “couldn’t be addressed by conditions”. Heritage architect Karl Pederson, speaking on behalf of Ms Russell, said that what was being proposed was the “only economically viable project that can save Mourne Park House, the landscape and demesne”. He added that it would inject £30m into the construction economy, £3.5m into the payroll economy and £1.7m into the supply chain economy. Mr Pederson also stated that 430 construction jobs and 120 full-time jobs would be created, and that the hotel would bring 55,000 visitors to the district annually. Crotlieve councillor Jarlath Tinnelly proposed that the committee grant permission to the development on the basis that “it guarantees a restoration of this stunning building and site, to be preserved when all of us are no longer here.” This was seconded by Glyn Hanna (DUP, Mournes), who said it would be “a significant development for the whole community of Mourne and a massive boost to the economy of Mourne”. The committee unanimously supported the proposal, and delegated power to draft planning conditions to officers prior to it being passed to DfI
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