Council backing ‘in principle’ for revised marina village plan

An artist's impression of the proposed marina village at Sandy Bay. INLT 17-628-CON
An artist's impression of the proposed marina village at Sandy Bay. INLT 17-628-CON

REVISED plans for a £42.5m marina village at Sandy Bay have been backed by a majority on Larne Borough Council’s development committee.

Larne Marina Company (LMC) has unveiled its concept for a 200-berth marina harbour, complete with a realigned promenade, a new public plaza and a range of dwellings ranging from small apartments and townhouses to fishermen’s cottages and holiday accommodation.

The proposed development would also boast a reception building hosting a 16-bedroom inn and restaurant. The developer anticipates that the facility would create 50 jobs and boost the visitor spend in the borough by £2m a year.

A team of representatives from LMC presented their plans to local councillorslast week, more than 12 years after the proposal for a marina was first mooted by the company. That application is currently at appeal and has been opposed throughout by objectors Larne Promenade Action Group.

But LMC director Bill Liddle feels confident that the amended plans have addressed many of the sticking points from the original application and told the Larne Times that the development represented “a bright, a bold opportunity for Larne”.

He added: “A marina may not be viable at the present time, but it is vital that Larne is in a good position for when the economy becomes more buoyant. Now is the time to make these plans and get everything approved so that the town can reap the benefits later.”

Following LMC’s presentation to the council, elected members had the chance to ask the developers a number of probing questions regarding the plans.

“There are a number of councillors who were not on the council when our original proposal was brought forward over a decade ago, so we endeavoured to answer all the questions and address the concerns that had historically been attached to the marina village plan,” Mr Liddle said.

LMC attempted to alleviate some members’ long-held concerns over the proposed marina at Sandy Bay, such as the potential impact on public access to the promenade and the loss of views. Councillors heard that, under the new plans, no part of the promenade would be closed off to the public at any time, even during the construction phase. They were also told that the breakwaters would be at a similar height to the existing promenade, so there would be no major impact on views out to sea.

Another controversial aspect of the original application has been the proposal to build high-rise accommodation at the site. LMC said they had taken these concerns on board and the proposed accommodation under the new plans would be a mixture of village-style buildings that would be much more sympathetic to the coastal setting and would not obstruct views of the existing tree line that runs parallel to the promenade.

Further, members were told that priority would be given to the construction of the marina portion of the development, and that the proposed scheme had been moved further south to so as not to infringe on the nearby Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

After the representatives from LMC departed the meeting, town councillor Martin Wilson proposed that the council should support the company’s concept for a marina village at Sandy Bay. The proposal was seconded by Cllr Drew Niblock and carried by seven votes to six. Councillor Roy Craig and Alderman Jack McKee were not present at the meeting.

Speaking to the Times on Tuesday, Cllr Wilson said he had been “impressed” by LMC’s revised plans and added that they had “ticked a lot of my boxes”.

“This new application is a completely different vision from the one that was previously brought before the council,” he added.

“One of the main problems I had with the original plan was that the public would not have full access to the promenade. This was a big issue for many local people back when I fought my first election. But with this new application, the promenade not only remains intact, it will also be enhanced. It is a win-win situation.

“There are still a lot of hurdles to overcome, but I for one am on board, knowing that the promenade will be safeguarded and the public will have unhindered access.”

Town councillor Drew Niblock echoed the views of his colleague and said: “Larne not only needs, but deserves this marina village development and I am happy that it is one step closer to being realised.”

But a spokesman for Larne Promenade Action Group (LPAG), who was present at the meeting, said he was concerned that the revised development would have a negative effect on the Prom Cafe, which is based at Larne Leisure Centre.

He told the Times: “The cafe enjoys unspoilt views across the Irish Sea, but if this marina village plan goes ahead, it represents a real threat to that business. Instead of looking out over the sea, customers would be left looking out over a car park. I am concerned that it could result in a massive loss of trade for the cafe.”

The spokesman added that LPAG would be submitting a Freedom of Information request to Larne Council seeking the tape recordings from Monday’s meeting.

Larne Council’s decision to support LMC’s amended plans comes just three months after councillors backed a proposal that earmarked Sandy Bay as the “only hope” for marina facilities in the borough.

This was despite the fact that Sandy Bay had been ranked bottom of a list of five potential sites suitable for marina facilities in a council-commissioned consultant’s report. In another twist a few weeks later, the council rejected a motion from Cllr Gregg McKeen that would have authorised council officers to invite proposals from anyone interested in establishing a marina at Sandy Bay. It was pointed out by Councillor Wilson that the local authority had already agreed to hear the presentation from LMC.