Tuesday 11 March 2008

Decision to preserve school land as playing fields overturned

A HIGH Court judge has overturned as unlawful a local authority decision aimed at preserving 4.5 acres of walled lands adjoining the Presentation Brothers' former secondary school at Glasthule, Co Dublin, for use as playing fields.

The brothers had been treated in a "high-handed and extremely shabby" manner, Mr Justice Peter Kelly also said.

The judge noted Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council had conceded its decision on the lands was unlawful and had not disputed that the brothers had not been told of the proposal in advance and only learned of it by chance from a leaflet distributed by a local councillor.

He made an order quashing the council decision and also awarded costs to the brothers, adding that he would have awarded costs at the highest level but could not do so.

In their proceedings, the brothers said the council had stated Glasthule was deficient in open spaces but claimed no evidence was adduced by the council in that regard. The council's action had effectively sterilised the lands, it was claimed.

Given their ownership of the lands in question and their 150 years' service to the people of Glasthule, the brothers had been treated with "extremely bad manners" by the county manager, the judge said.

The judge was dealing with proceedings in which the Presentation Brothers sought to challenge the decision of the council's elected members of October 8th, 2007, to approve a variation in its development plan providing for the preservation of the lands at Hudson Road, Glasthule, as a playing field.

There is no public access to the lands and they have not been used as playing fields for some time, the court heard.

Yesterday, Donal O'Donnell SC, for the brothers, said the council had informed his side it was not opposing the application.

Ruling on the matter, the judge said the brothers had operated a highly successful school in Glasthule for many years until they decided, due to declining numbers, to close it.

While they had received offers from developers for the school building, zoned as residential amenity, they wished it to retain an educational purpose and sold it for a lower price to the Department of Education.

Some 4.5 acres of lands ancillary to the school, which had not been used as playing fields for some time since the school had closed, were not included in that sale.

The Presentation Brothers had since decided to sell these lands to fund their mission, to provide for the upkeep of their remaining schools here and in Africa, and for the care of elderly members of the order.

The lands were zoned for open space and recreational amenity purposes, which could incorporate commercial recreational development.

The brothers could have sought to have them zoned residential amenity thus increasing their value, but had not made an issue of that, the judge said.

He said it appeared a well-known property developer met the county manager on June 11th, 2007, to discuss a possible development of the lands.

Within hours of that meeting, the manager began a process to vary the county development plan to ensure the continued use of the lands as playing fields and circulated a report that same day to councillors. The council had voted for that proposal on October 8th, 2007.

The judge said the brothers were not informed of the proposal prior to its circulation to councillors and were kept in ignorance until, by chance, they saw a flyer welcoming the proposal.

The brothers then sought a meeting with the county manager but they were refused.

The council now conceded this treatment of the brothers was unlawful and the council decision could not stand, the judge said.

Mr Justice Kelly also noted that the development objective of preserving the lands for playing fields was negative in character as the lands were not used for playing fields now and could only be used for that purpose if the brothers, as owners of the lands, agreed.

Irish Times


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