THE GAELIC Athletic Association has been granted permission for its controversial plans to demolish and rebuild the handball centre next to Croke Park, despite a recommendation for refusal from an inspector from An Bord Pleanála.
An Bord Pleanála has granted permission for the €9 million development which is almost three times the size of the old centre and includes some 500sq m of office space in addition to sports, recreation and community facilities.
The board has rejected the recommendation of its inspector, Mary Crowley, who said the amount of office space was excessive and unjustified, and that the range of facilities available to the community would be “significantly compromised or lost”.
The GAA’s proposals to redevelop the handball alley were opposed by a number of local community groups and several sports organisations including the Dublin Handball Board and Irish Handball Council Sports Centre Club.
The existing centre, which has been in operation for about 40 years, houses handball and community facilities including a club bar and function rooms. The new plans retain some space for community facilities, but not a bar.
Residents’ groups, in their submissions to the board, said they believed the GAA intended to use the building as a conference centre and host local community and sports groups.
In its submission the GAA said the building was in a state of decay and needed to be redeveloped ahead of the 2012 World Handball Championships which it plans to host.
In her report, Ms Crowley, who conducted a public hearing on the application last November, said she shared the appellants’ concerns regarding possible future “inappropriate” use of the proposed building for conference facilities. The GAA had not adequately demonstrated that the volume of office space proposed was necessary for the specific needs of the administration of a handball facility, she said.
The existing centre was a valuable recreational and community resource, she said, as in addition to handball it offered racquetball, quiz nights, senior citizen parties and events, charity fundraisers, three forms of martial arts, ladies defence classes, dance classes and darts leagues. It also provided space for residents’ group meetings, anti-drugs meetings and general socialising.
“This proposal will not provide a commensurate valuable community use that will contribute to meeting the established wide range of recreational needs of the area,” Ms Crowley said.
“Accessibility, availability and the range of recreational facilities currently available to the community at this location will be significantly compromised or lost” and the development should be refused, she said.
However the board rejected Ms Crowley’s recommendation. It said the office space constituted ancillary use to the prime use of the building and was therefore acceptable.
It also considered that the uses proposed for the new centre did provide for the recreational needs of the area.