PLANS for a 95-home development in the heart of Newtownards are set to be approved tonight (Thursday).

The social housing scheme is to be built on waste ground behind Court Street – which was once slated to be redeveloped as a massive shopping centre.

The project is due to be okayed at a special meeting of Ards and North Down Council’s Planning Committee this evening, at which the 95-home development is the only item listed for discussion.

It’s very unusual for the council to hold special planning meetings like this, with the local authority usually preferring to keep even large developments on the agenda for its regularly scheduled committees.

Official documents state the special hearing was requested by Radius Housing, which wants to sign off on agreements with the property developer building the scheme before the end of this month.

Tonight marks the second time a massive housing project will be approved for the site, as three years ago a 108-home development was greenlit.

Around a quarter of the 95 houses now planned for the site are three-bedroom semi-detached properties, though the development will include everything from single-bed apartments to four-bedroom bungalows.

In what is an increasingly rare step, NI Water has okayed the plan.

The water firm has been blocking the expansion of suburban developments on the outskirts of Newtownards, stating that its sewer network can’t cope with large numbers of new homes.

But it says that the town centre can take the extra housing, as there’s a pre-existing sewer within 20 metres of the proposed development.

The project will also repair and retain a historic wall that dates back to the 17th century, when the area was part of a house and garden estate called Castlebawn.

The Castlebawn name has survived into modern usage for that part of Ards, and around 20 years ago the site was supposed to be redeveloped as part of a sprawling complex that was to include a shopping centre, car showrooms and retail and business units.

That idea stalled in the wake of 2008’s property crash and subsequent recession. The eventual Castlebawn shopping development built years later was much smaller, leaving the land behind Court Street untouched.

Planners and politicians now agree that housing is the best use for the site and hope that the current plans will spur a long-dormant part of Newtownards back to life.