A controversial cliffside development has been approved by planners - despite fears it could lead to a catastrophic landslide that could cut off much of a village.

The row over planning for the site at Port St Mary has been rumbling on for years.

Yesterday (Monday) the latest application by Haven Homes (21/00547/B) for a single detached three-storey home built into the cliffside on the Shore Road Underway was approved by the planning committee despite a raft of objections from neighbours, village Commissioners and constituency MHKs.

Rushen MHK Michelle Haywood said in her objection that she had serious concerns about the stability of the site.

Dr Michelle Haywood
Dr Michelle Haywood (Dave Kneale/Isle of Man Newspapers)

She warned that excavation of the broogh (Manx for steep grassy bank or cliffside) could cause a landslide that would undermine Bay View Road above and effectively cut off the southern end of Port St Mary, the working harbour and the residents.

Dr Haywood said: ‘The wider economic impact if this construction goes wrong would be catastrophic for Port St Mary.

‘There have been previous landslides at Happy Valley and Perwick Bay. There are a number of underground water courses around Port St Mary that undermine and destabilise the Brooghs.

‘There is already evidence that the existing pathway that runs to the north of the site is shifting, tipping and cracking.’

A resident on Primrose Terrace questioned the practicality of excavating the existing 50 degrees slope to accommodate the proposed building. ‘Concerns remain as expressed to the PSM Commissioners about the possible collapse of the cliff face and road above,’ they said.

But recommending that the application be approved, planning officer Hamish Laird pointed out that concerns raised regarding the stability and security of the cliff face were a matter for building control not the planning committee. He said: ‘The consideration of the planning application is concerned with matters of land-use as opposed to the feasibility of constructing the development.’

Ewan Craine, architect for Haven Homes, told the planning committee that the company was well aware of the concerns made. However, he said the stepped design would mean less material having to be removed from the cliff and assured the committee that indemnity insurance would be in place.

How the new cliffside house on the Underway, Port St Mary, will look

Concerns were also expressed about the striking modern appearance of the proposed three-storey ‘upside down’ house, although amended plans have softened its look with the gable fronted wings now having more traditional slate pitched roofs rather than low angled roofs as originally proposed, and the use of more stone and timber cladding instead of mainly white render.

Rushen MHK, Speaker Juan Watterson, describing it as ‘abhorrent’ and out of keeping with other dwellings in the area. One of the objectors on Primrose Terrace said it would be a ‘carbuncle’ when viewed from the inner harbour, with the ‘over-use’ of glass resulting in ‘something akin to a greenhouse’. A neighbour on Shore Road who lives next door to the proposed development called it a ‘massive eyesore’.

A member of the planning committee, however, praised the modern design and planning officer Mr Laird said he thought it would add an ‘extra dimension’ to the area and would ‘contrast and complement at the same time’.

There have also been concerns about parking, although the plans include an integral garage, with some commissioners having disputed the ownership of the land on Shore Road to be used as a lay-by.

A 2008 planning application for three dwellings on the site was refused in part because it included no detail on measures to be taken to ensure the stability of the cliff face would not be compromised.

A 2009 application for two dwellings was permitted by the planning committee and recommended for approval by the inspector at appeal but refused by the acting Minister on the grounds of parking. Then in 2010 an amended application for two dwellings with layby parking to the front was approved after an appeal was dismissed. This approval has not lapsed.

The current application was submitted in May 2021 and with the designs amended in November last year.

Planning officer Mr Laird concluded that while there were objections, he considered the scheme acceptable, with precedent for development of the site having already been established.