Tuesday 27 May 2008

Council officials back retention of site with no planning permit

OFFICIALS of Wicklow County Council are to propose a material contravention of the county development plan to accommodate a development which has no planning permission and whose owner is about to face committal proceedings.

On June 9th next councillors are due to consider granting permission for the retention of buildings belonging to Abwood Homes, on the western side of the N11 outside Newtownmountkennedy.

Last year the council won a case in the High Court against Forest Fencing Ltd, trading as Abwood Homes, and its owner, George Smullen, following which Mr Smullen was ordered to clear the site by April this year.

As the site has not been cleared, as directed, the council's solicitors have been asked to prepare attachment and committal proceedings. The council is currently awaiting a court date, according to senior executive officer Sheila O'Leary.

However, on April 18th, in a public notice, the council advised that it would consider granting an application for the retention of two of the three buildings on the site, which was the subject of a High Court ruling.

The retention application, from Mr Smullen, would materially contravene the county development plan, as the location is not zoned for industrial use. The final decision rests with the councillors.

Financial controller for Abwood Breda Hamilton said she was "amazed" when told of the intention to initiate proceedings. "We discussed retention with the council on a reduced scale . . . and at the same time they want to knock it down before they grant retention."

In his judgment last year Mr Justice Peter Charleton described the existing Abwood buildings as a major development for which there was no planning permission. "It is in material contravention of the Co Wicklow Development Plan. It is built entirely to suit the developer and with almost no reference to legal constraint."

Mr Justice Charleton noted that the county development plan aimed to protect green belt areas between expanding towns and to encourage industrial development within towns and villages.

While the Abwood development could possibly be in conformity with the county plan if it had been sited in a heavily-wooded area, it seemed to him, the judge said, that it could not be acceptable in the current site. "It has, as a matter of fact, turned the green belt corridor area between towns into a stretch of industrial and commercial usage."

However, the council's planning department has decided that the development, as now proposed, does not "unduly impact" on the area.

"Having examined the submitted documentation and the site, it was considered that the development, as proposed, did not unduly impact on the amenities of the rural area and adjoining residential amenities," Ms O'Leary said.

"Regard was had to the scale and design of the proposed structures and to the proposed use. Regard was also had to the employment-generating nature of the development and its accessibility to the national road network.

"In the light of previous planning history it is the council's opinion that there are planning grounds to proceed further with this application."

The council said that the planning authority had initiated enforcement proceedings against the Abwood operation as no permission had been granted for it.

"However, in assessing the current application, the previous enforcement proceedings and existence of unauthorised development would not have been a material consideration in assessing the planning application. This planning application had to be assessed on its own merits in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area."

The latest filed accounts for Forest Fencing show that it made a pre-tax profit of €930,662 in 2006, a significant jump on the €222,987 it made in the previous year.

The Irish Times


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