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Washing Bay factory granted extended operating hours much to residents’ bemusement

DMAC Engineering Coalisland

There was near unanimity at a recent Planning Committee of Mid Ulster District Council, to allow DMAC Engineering, Annagher Road in the Washing Bay area to start operating daily at 6am, as opposed to 7am.

The council recommendation for longer operating hours was proposed by Councillor Eimear Carney (Sinn Féin, Torrent DEA).

Despite reassurance from the company, to the effect that a compliance manager has been appointed to ensure that doors are closed and that forklifts do not operate outside between 6am and 7am, neighbours remain of the opinion that extending operation hours would impact on sleeping times in the morning.

Environmental Health officers carried out their own survey between 6.45am and 7.30am on January 18, 2022, and noise emanating from DMAC was clearly audible and consisted of fan noise, forklift truck movements, reverse alarms, and banging and clanging of metal/steel.

Letters of objection have been received by Mid Ulster District Council from nearby residents which mentioned health implications, as night-time exposure above 55dB can raise blood pressure and lead to heart attacks – Mid Ulster District Council’s Deferred Consideration Report notes that some of these residents have these conditions.

Objectors also claim that factory noise can be heard as early as 5.30am.

Although the company stresses that stringent measures have been put in place to mitigate noise disruption, opposition to extended opening hours remains very strong among residents living close to the operation.

Speaking at the Planning Committee meeting, Cllr Christine McFlynn (SDLP, Magherafelt DEA) said she felt very strongly on this issue: “This industry was approved with a condition on their operating hours, and there’s 37 objections, according to the report, so it’s very clear that DMAC continually abuse that condition that’s on there, so I wouldn’t be happy that this would be approved to extend the operating hours and that they would now operate from 6am.

“Is there no consideration being given to the residents that live locally there? Some of them have children or they’re elderly. I propose that we do not extend the opening hours and that we enforce the condition that’s already there.”

A senior council officer contended, however, that satisfactory mitigating measures could be put in place which would both allow longer working hours, while ensuring that local residents are not adversely impacted by noise: “The applicants have advised they need to amend the condition to keep competitive, or they will not be able to retain the workforce as other companies are offering a four-day week.

“They’ve advised this is not for all staff, and only a minority of them work these patterns. At a site visit I was advised they have implemented a number of procedures and processes to limit activities on site before 7am, to ensure nuisance is limited.

“The company has appointed a compliance officer to ensure doors are not open before 7am, [and have taken steps to ensure] moving products and noise activities are not necessary in the morning.

“They have extractor fans on timers [so they] do not create potential for noise nuisance.

“Neighbours were notified about the proposals and about these mitigations. They have indicated they still experience noise from the site as early as 5.30 am, and they are concerned about health implications from exposure to noise during night-time.

“Environmental Health officers were asked again to look at this proposal. They advised they’ve received approximately 37 complaints from residents about the premises in relation to noise, odour and other loss of amenity, however none of these 37 complaints have been substantiated.

“There are no conditions attached restricting when vehicles may be on the site or in relation to operation of the fan on the site. Conditions can be attached to restrict activities within the extended hours of operation.

“In view of the mitigations that have been proposed and additional conditions to restrict the site, I recommend this application is approved with conditions restricting activities between 6am and 7am, and restrictions on the operations of the fans and also restrictions on vehicle activity on the site, which isn’t currently dealt with.”

One of the objectors, James Hughes, was given three minutes to make a case against the application for extended opening hours: “Before I start I find it astonishing that there’s no record of any complaints upheld, given that we had a site meeting at a neighbour’s house with a good few of the councillors present, and after that we had a meeting with Environmental Health.

“I’m here speaking on behalf of local residents concerning this planning application. I made a written objection to this application.”

He went on to allege: “This [operation] has already operated outside the planning condition. It’s under investigation at the minute by the Environmental Health due to fumes. DMAC cannot keep the fumes inside the boundary of the site.

“A number of objections have been made to this planning application. It fails to adequately take into account the fact that fumes and odour are not confined to the site.

“Odours and fumes released by the applicant are hazardous to health and interfere with our amenities and all of those living in the surrounding area. It’s in breach of Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights and contrary to Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

“It interferes with our peaceful enjoyment of our property. It fails to take into account DMAC’s history of failure to comply with planning permission and regulations. If this plan is approved, we intend to take a full judicial review in this case.”

Cllr Dan Kerr (Independent, Torrent DEA) indicated that he was happy to second Cllr Carney’s proposal, in favour of longer operating hours.

Planning manager, Dr Chris Bloomer intervened at this stage, stating: “As a committee, because somebody threatens judicial review is not a reason to make a decision one way or the other.

“When that decision was made, a lot of conditions were placed on it in order to protect the residents, and it is clear that in the main, that decision was a wise decision in that we have a business operating which is contributing to the economy of Mid Ulster.

“However, there have been issues which have arisen on several occasions, whether it relates to drainage, whether it’s related to moving rubble on the site, issues raised in relation to fumes and chimney. The objector has cited that and his main concern is fumes.

“The decision before the committee is the hours of operation. There seem to be an assumption that if you allow [extended hours], Mid Ulster does not enforce its conditions. That is untrue. We have enforced the conditions and we have taken court action.

“What we have to consider here is what is reasonable. Why would a business not be allowed to go in and clean overnight? Shops clean overnight, they restock overnight.

“Pubs have hours of opening but it doesn’t stop them from cleaning up and doing their shelves. What I’m reading in this report is that we will let them do some things from 6am to prepare, but it’s very specific on what you can do and what you cannot do.

“It makes it clear that there are no activities within the building, except for welding components, quality-checking components, paint preparation.

“We’re allowing them to clean the equipment, mix the paints and sprays, but we’re also saying the doors need to be closed, noisy activities can’t occur, no activities in the yard can occur, we’re also making it quite clear that the extractor fan in the booth shall not be operated.”

Chair of committee, Cllr Seán McPeake was anxious to bring the matter to a conclusion. He was about to take a vote on this issue, however it was pointed out to him that no one had seconded Cllr McFlynn’s proposal to refuse the recommendation for extended opening hours.

The SDLP representative stated: “I wouldn’t be voting for it and I want it noted in the notes that I’m opposed to those hours being extended.”

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