Tuesday 19 June 2007

Setback for decentralisation plan to Knock

Plans to decentralise the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to Knock, Co Mayo, have received a setback with the refusal of planning permission for a new headquarters building.

The move of 140 staff, planned as far back as 2003, was to have been completed later this year. Some 37 staff from the department moved to temporary accommodation at Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, last July.

At the end of last year, it was projected 64 staff would be in place in Tubbercurry, covering six sections of the department.

Despite missed deadlines for the planned new headquarters, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív announced last July work would commence on the new offices in the first quarter of 2007.

"It is estimated that the headquarters will transfer there from mid-2008. Once the new offices are ready, the staff in Tubbercurry will relocate, giving a total of 140 in the new location," he said.

The building was to have comprised two three-storey wings of offices linked by a glazed atrium stepping up the hillside site.

However, planning permission was appealed by Peter Sweetman and Associates of Rathmines, Dublin and, in its ruling yesterday, An Bord Pleanála rejected the application.

The board said that, notwithstanding the proximity of the building to Ireland West International Airport, Knock, the headquarters would have been in a "rural area which is remote from the town of Charlestown or any other settlement, remote from the normal range of services and facilities associated with office accommodation and remote from public transport infrastructure".

It was considered the proposed location of a standalone office building unrelated to the operation of the airport would give rise to unsustainable forms of commuting and would be contrary to the current Mayo Development Plan.

The board also found that, by virtue of the proximity of the runway at Ireland West, the building would have represented a poor working environment for staff.

The board's decision was welcomed by An Taisce, which called for a complete review of the decentralisation programme.

"Decentralised offices should be situated in the gateways and hubs in locations which have good access to public transport, and do not worsen car-based sprawl," it said in a statement.

Tim O'Brien
© 2007 The Irish Times

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