Councillor Gallagher stated that after numerous meetings there was still no definitive answer on how to go forward. He stated that advice had been sought from Community Places who provided independent advice to the community sector and that former senior planners had advised that Council could carry out the works under General Permitted Development.
Councillor Gallagher Proposed, Seconded by Councillor McMahon
That Council proceed with the proposal under General Permitted Development to put in place the necessary works to bring Melvin Arena to the required specifications.
Councillor McMahon stated he and Councillor Gallagher had met with a former senior planning officer who was of the opinion that work could progress at Melvin through General Permitted Development. He queried who was responsible for making the decisions to take the project forward. He stated that Strabane Athletic were two games away from promotion to a higher championship league which would be a historic achievement for the entire area. He stressed that it was important that Council matched the endeavours of Strabane Athletic Football Club by assisting them on this significant issue.
The Chief Executive advised that all Members and Officers wished to provide the best possible service in terms of the upgrade at Melvin. He stated that it was challenging for Officers to respond to requests such as this as a number of very detailed reports had been previously provided to Members on the matter. He advised that a number of meetings were facilitated to discuss the matter and that absolute clarity could be difficult to achieve in situations such as this where there were a number of pressing timeframes to resolve matters.
Continuing, the Chief Executive stated that Council currently has a process in place for a permanent solution to provide a substantial upgrade to the facility at Melvin. He further stated that Officers had been attempting to ascertain the requirements of the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) and it was his understanding that NIFL had made it very clear that the requirements sought by them had to be in place by a particular date in order for them to certify the facility. He stated that Council Officers have been clear that the requirements may not be able to be put in place by the deadline as it was physically impossible and that they would require planning permission. He further stated that notwithstanding the advice from former members of the planning department, Council as a competent planning authority had reviewed the requirements set down by NIFL and the view of the planning Officers was that planning permission was required. He then asked the Director of Health and Community to clarify the position.
The Director of Health and Community stated that in terms of the NIFL position, the grounds criteria was clearly set out with the requirements which involved changing facilities, spectator stand, turnstiles and fencing. She advised that Officers had consulted with NIFL and officials had carried out a site visit and advised that the changing rooms fell short of the floor space requirement and would therefore not qualify for NIFL approval. She stated that NIFL also advised that there could be no exemptions provided by them for promotion purposes. She advised that the outline drawings and illustrations of the required provision was recently submitted to NIFL for further consideration, however nothing has been received to change their initial feedback and comments. She stated that in terms of the planning issues, informal consultations have taken place and planners gave the informal view that the permitted development requirements did not apply to the changing room provision which exceeded the permitted cubic metres nor do they apply to the spectator stand. She stated that any definitive response would be the outcome of the presentation of the detailed drawings and the satisfaction of the issues raised by statutory bodies who had been consulted in regards to the proposal including issues regarding impact, arising from environmental assessment, building control, environmental health and transportation which would need consideration by the planning authorities in relation to reaching a conclusion.
Alderman Warke welcomed that football clubs were being assisted in the process to progress within the league. He stated that he sought clarity regarding football teams that played their games on Council owned grounds and asked if Council would then be responsible for offering support to those teams. He added that he fully supported the proposal for Strabane Athletic but would like to see Newbuildings Football Club being supported also.
Councillor Gallagher referred to the General Permitted Development Order and stated that Melvin Arena was a Council owned facility, therefore Council was not required to make a planning application. He outlined that the existing changing room was 1sq metre short of the required specifications therefore it would suffice to add this requirement rather than build a complete new changing facility which required planning permission. He stated that the cubic seating requirement met the requirements of permitted development and noted that the turnstile and disabled toilets do not require any planning permission.
Councillor Tierney thanked the Officers for their response and stated that Council was the planning authority who had clearly stated that a planning application was required. He asked that Officers support the process for the facility at Melvin and to establish the correct process as a definitive answer regarding planning was required before going forward. He stated that whilst he was in support of the proposal put forward by Councillor Gallagher, it was important to ensure that whatever expectations or suggestions put forward by Members can be met.
Councillor Duffy stated that there was a requirement that all Council facilities must have planning permission. She stated that whilst Councillors Gallagher and McMahon had been working with Strabane Athletic Football Club, the information from the Chief Executive and the Director of Health and Community needed to be discussed further.
Councillor Duffy then requested a recess to allow Members to consider the information from the Chief Executive and the Director of Health and Community.
The Mayor agreed to the recess and invited Members to discuss the matter with Officers.
Councillor D Kelly asked for legal clarification during the recess period regarding planning permission. He stated that it was his understanding that all Council facilities no matter how basic required planning permission.
After a lengthy recess the Mayor invited comments from Members.
Councillor Gallagher thanked Officers for their input on the matter. He stated that Council had a major capital project in place at Melvin and also the potential for a temporary measure that could fulfil the ambitions of Strabane Athletic Football Club.
Councillor Gallagher Proposed, Seconded by Councillor McMahon
That Council proceed under General Permitted Development to put in place the minimal requirements to meet NIFL criteria for the facilities at Melvin Arena.
The Lead Legal Services Officer advised that on the basis of the information available to Officers at the present time he could not advise that Council could take forward the proposal under permitted development at this time and the motion could not therefore proceed.