A CONTROVERSIAL plan to build an 83-bedroom hotel and office blocks on the site of a convent near the Rock of Cashel has been refused planning permission.
Yesterday An Bord Pleanala said the development was "inappropriate" because it would interfere with views of the Rock and would detract from the medieval town walls.
A row had earlier broken out between the Presentation Order of nuns, which formerly owned the land, and the town council over how the land should be used.
The nuns said they had sold the land at St Francis Abbey, on Friar Street, to Cashel Town Council in 2001 on the basis that it would be turned into a public park. However, the council denied this was true.
The authority then sold the land to CMS Development of Clonmel at a profit of €1.5m, saying it had been sold to ensure a hotel would be built in the heritage town.
The plans had proposed a five-storey, 83-bedroom hotel, with swimming pool, bar, restaurant, coffee shop, ballroom and meeting rooms.
Two commercial buildings of three and four storeys were also proposed, with parking provided for 145 cars. The town council granted permission for the project on February 1 this year, but the decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanala.
Yesterday, the planning appeals board gave three reasons for refusing permission. It said the site adjoined protected structures, the town plan protected "important town gardens" and the design was "inappropriate" because of its height and scale.
The board said the development would "materially and adversely" affect the character and setting of the protected structures and would detract from the Cashel townscape, "in particular in views from the Rock of Cashel". It also said the development would not make an attractive link for pedestrians and it was not satisfied that the commercial buildings "would not injure, or interfere with, the medieval town defences of Cashel".
The Save Our Town Park group in Cashel, which had objected to the plans, said yesterday it would continue to press for a park to be built on the site.
The group says it will make the provision of a park a key issue at next year's local authority elections.
"We are delighted with today's outcome,'' said group spokesman Richard O'Brien. "It justifies everything we have done in the campaign we have been running against the proposed development.''
Last night Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes called on Cashel Town Council to liaise with community groups about the future use of the former convent lands.
"Now that Pleanala has made its decision, the town council should chart a course ahead for the land with all relevant community groups, including the Save Our Town Park committee. It is essential the community is united over whatever plans are devised," he said.
"The fact remains that Cashel does not have sufficient tourist accommodation. The Rock of Cashel receives a quarter of a million tourists a year and the town still needs a hotel. I would urge the town council and the community to work towards a solution in this regard."
It is not clear if CMS Developments will submit another plan for the site. Last night, the company chose not to comment. The town council was also unavailable, but town manager Sean Keating said the council was "disappointed" at the decision.
He added that if the hotel could not be built the land would revert back to the town council under the terms of the development contact.
Paul Melia and Senan Hogan