Northern Ireland, and Belfast particularly, is being viewed as a potential growth area for UK architects. The city is looking to structure development through a series of planning initiatives, development briefs and design guides, but the issues that will shape future growth and the mechanisms for achieving it are fraught.
Housing is one of the most controversial issues in Belfast and an area where 'outside advice' is likely to be most resented. Richard Partington Architects (RPA) has been involved in projects in Belfast for the past three years and the experience has been salutary. There are significant differences in the implementation of planning and regulations, as well as a raft of documentation that is superficially similar but, in fact, different from the rest of the UK. Planning applications are broadly administered in the same way as mainland Britain, except that the Planning Service is a government agency within the Department of the Environment. The usual consultations are undertaken during planning, and public consultation is particularly significant and highly political.
RPA obtained planning consent for its housing scheme of 58 apartments on Shore Road, north Belfast, five months after submission.A ninestorey element of the scheme proved to be controversial, and the client was involved in extensive consultations with the local residents, the MP for the area and Northern Ireland Assembly members. The project was partly funded by a public body, the Belfast Regeneration Office, part of the Northern Ireland Department for Social Development.
Planning policy for the province is informed by mainland practice and guidance. However, there is a certain ambivalence, especially towards the density and parking issues raised by PPG 3. Northern Ireland views itself as a 'car culture', with high levels of car ownership and supposedly poor public transport. This has implications for urban capacity and renewal.
A new housing design guide, Creating Places, describes quality aspirations for housing layout and design. The guide, known as the 'Blue Book', is a comprehensive publication informed by DB32 and its companion guide Places, Streets and Movement but, unlike these, appears compromised by a rigid adherence to standards, especially parking ratios. Parkmount, despite being heralded as a flagship for 'sustainability', and located close to the city centre, was required to provide 1.5 parking spaces per apartment.
Richard Partington, Richard Partington Architects
CREDITS CLIENT The Carvill Group ARCHITECT Richard Partington Architects URBAN DESIGN Llewelyn-Davies ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN Max Fordham and Partners STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Fergus Gilligan