BATTLE OF THE BLOT; Residents in court wrangle over plans to develop 'eyesore' farm.
IT WAS once blasted as a "blot on the landscape'' by former Stormont Environment Minister Richard Needham.
Scores of rusting cars and lorries lay strewn on the Geddis Farm, making it an eyesore among the rolling green fields and hills of Helen's Bay.
Farm owner Ignatius Geddis even at one stage threatened to berth 100 German U-Boats submarines on the front lawn of his home to turn into scrap metal.
Now the entrepreneur wants to turn over his "noxious'' land site in upper crust Helen's Bay to wealthy developers Fraser Homes Northern Ireland Ltd to build luxury pounds 500,000 homes.
The plan has sent residents along North Down's Gold Coast into a rage. Even mandarins at the Department of Environment and North Down Borough Council have told Geddis and Fraser Homes that proposal is "unacceptable''.
So after months of wrangling, the case was heard over four days last week by a Planning Appeals Commission.
Scores of residents packed into Holywood library to voice their outrage at the development plans - to build 37 luxury homes at a total cost of pounds 18.5 million.
DoE principal planning officer Chris Ball presented a 34-page report to the PAC hearing demanding the proposal be rejected.
He said the site had been used for "unauthorised dumping and waster disposal over some considerable time.''
Mr Ball added: "The issue of public health risk from development of the site, because of possible contamination of the land from these activities, is an important and material consideration.''
And senior scientific officer Pamela Patterson told the hearing that it could cost up to pounds 4.25 million to decontaminate the site through a "dig and dump'' scheme.
The land had been contaminated by oils which had seeped into the soil, builders rubble, high levels of lead and zinc and animal carcasses.
The Helen's Bay Ratepayers Association also took a hardline stand at the hearing against the development.
Spokesman John Rodgers, representing over 300 residents, said they would rather live with the "present mess'' than a housing development.
And he said the DoE could end their nightmare by serving Geddis with a discontinuance of business order.
"It is in the Department's hands if they want this potential beauty spot restored other than allowing it to be replaced by housing development.
"If Mr Geddis chose, he could carry on his commercial activities in a neat and tidy and orderly manner without the sprawl of unremoved scrap and waste which has characterised this farm for so long.
"He has been unwilling to do this so far, presumably because of his wish to make the farm so awful that one day somebody would be allowed to break up the green belt and develop the whole site,'' Mr Rodgers told the hearing.
And he added that the development plan would "drive a coach and horses'' through the current area plan.
North Down Borough Council also weighed in behind the residents and the DoE Planning Service to oppose the planning application.
Town planner Dr Dale Singleton told PAC commissioner Bertie Allen that the development proposal would cause "demonstrable harm'' to the area.
"If permission was granted, it would convey the disastrous message that there could be benefits attached to creating a big enough eyesore in the countryside,''said Dr Singleton.
However, opposition to the proposal was rejected by lawyers for the developers. Donal Deeny QC told the hearing that the scheme had "substantial planning advantages''.
He added that the benefits outweighed any harm that it may cause to the green belt.
"It therefore should be given the green light,'' added the lawyer for the developers.
The hearing ended on Friday. A decision by the PAC on the planning application is expected by the end of June.
CONTROVERSIAL: Ignatius Geddis' farm at Helen's Bay. Inset: Richard Needham