Councillors have approved a retrospective application for installation of an aluminium shopfront at the International Food Centre in Cliftonville despite officers recommending refusal.
The store, in Northdown Road, had previously been refused permission for the installation in March. In June last year the council approved plans for reinstatement of the traditional timber shop front but the aluminium front and shutters were put in place instead.
If again refused the store owner would have faced thousands of pounds in costs to rip out the shop front and replace it with the approved timber design.
Speaking in support of applicant Yildirim Cankat, ward councillor Alan Currie said there had been some miscommunication between the owner and his agent over the approved plans.
He said: “The business has completely transformed a rundown part of Northdown Road and brought long term empty units back into use.
“The current shop front design was actually based on other nearby businesses. The shop front is impressive, and fits the need of a large modern business which must be safe and secure when both open and closed and offer good mobility access.
“There are 40 or so aluminium style shop fronts on Northdown Road, however few are designed as well as the one being discussed.”
Cllr Currie noted a petition in support of the store had gained more than 1,000 signatures and pointed out that although the building was in a conservation area it was not listed by the council as a heritage shop front.
He also highlighted the vandalism suffered by many businesses with timber and large window designs, forcing the closure of some due to the crippling costs of repair.
He added: “The last thing we all want to see is a new business which offers so much to the local community incurring tens of thousands of debt replacing a state of the art shop front with a timber design which is just not practical for this type of business.”
Officers had recommended refusal based on the “modern design and materials (which fail) to preserve the architectural and historic merit of the building, detracting from the special character and significance of the Conservation Area as a designated heritage asset, resulting in harm which is not considered to be outweighed by the public benefits of the proposal.”
The meeting was also told there had been “ongoing planning enforcement” following the aluminium installation which was a planning breach.
Cllr Steve Albon said he was torn but later added: “This is the second time the same application has been submitted. It was refused the first time so I can’t see how the planning committee can overturn that and approve it.”
However, Cllr Heather Keen said it had been refused by officers and had not been brought to the planning committee previously.
Planning chief Iain Livingstone pointed out the council had refused it and it made no difference whether that was by members or officers.
Cllr Keen also gave her support for retaining the current shop front saying it was a “huge improvement” on what had been there before.
Councillors rejected the advice to refuse the application and instead approved it on the basis of the benefits of a ‘consistent design.’
Following the meeting Cllr Currie said: “I was happy to speak at the planning meeting to support the retrospective planning application for the retention of the International Foodstore Centre shop front. Although the correct planning permission was not originally obtained I felt this had a lot to do with miscommunication between the owner and his agent during the covid lockdown in 2021.
“The shop front that is now in place is in my opinion far better than what was previously there and modern businesses such as this need a design that is safe and secure.
“I’m pleased to say both my fellow ward councillors Heather Keen and Harry Scobie also supported this planning application as did the majority of planning committee members which allows the business to carry on being a great addition to the diverse range of Northdown Road shops.
“I would always recommend that any business planning on doing major work always makes sure they obtain and check they have the correct planning permission before any work begins.
“If the retrospective application had been refused by the planning committee then the present shop front would have had to be removed, incurring very large costs to the owner.”