A PROPOSAL to transform Kilkeel’s Mourne Park House into a luxury 123- bedroom hotel has been rubberstamped 19 months after the council gave the plans its backing.
Last March, the local authority’s Planning Committee voted unanimously to overturn a refusal recommendation issued by planners; however, given that a key statutory consultee – the Department for Communities’ (DfC) Historic Environment Division (HED) – objected to the plans, the decision was forwarded onto the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) for ministerial decision. Last Thursday, a DfI statement confirmed that its minister John O’Dowd had given the plans his approval.
Whilst visiting the newly completed flood alleviation scheme in Newcastle, the minister was asked by the Mourne Observer if the decision to grant approval to the hotel development had been a difficult one, given the stance taken by council planners and HED. “All these decisions have to be taken carefully and I have to take into account all the information provided to me, both in terms of the views of the council planners and other consultees in regard to these matters,” he said. “I took all that into account and I came to the decision on the grounds that I believe it benefits a rural constituency, it benefits the area economically and socially, it creates employment, and it supports tourism. “We have to create employment for our people, so that’s the basis on which I made the decision.” The Mourne Park House application – submitted by Marion Russell in June 2020 – proposed a hotel that would 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’, though council planners advised in their report last year that it should be refused on the basis of ‘the size, mass, scale and siting of the new build accommodation’.
At the 2021 committee meeting, heritage architect Karl Pedersen, speaking on behalf of Ms Russell, told councillors that what was being proposed was the “only economically viable project that can save Mourne Park House, the landscape and demesne” and that “the crux of the decision is down to the subjective view on size”. Mr Pedersen also stated that the development would inject £30m into the construction economy, £3.5m into the payroll economy and £1.7m into the supply chain economy. He added 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.
Representing HED Historic Buildings, Nicola Golden told councillors that “the main issue with the scheme is the new build portion of it”. “We accept that some degree of development is reasonable to facilitate the rescue of the house,” she said. “It is really just the extent of development that is the issue.” Andrew Gault of HED Historic Monuments added that issues his department had raised, under policy relating to the protection of parks and gardens, “couldn’t be addressed by conditions”.
Proposing the planners’ recommendation be overturned, independent Crotlieve councillor Jarlath Tinnelly said that he agreed with the applicant’s view 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 Mournes DUP councillor Glyn Hanna, who stated that the hotel would be “a significant development for the whole community of Mourne and a massive boost to the economy of Mourne”. The committee unanimously supported Cllr Tinnelly’s proposal, ultimately paving the way for last week’s approval. A notice of opinion to approve will be issued to the council and Ms Russell in the near future.