Monday 29 September 2008

Leisure centre nightclub and Dracula site face demolition

THE OWNERS of a leisure centre on Clontarf Road, Dublin, may have to demolish extensive portions of the premises on foot of a decision by An Bord Pleanála to refuse planning permission for their retention.

Westwood Leisure Centre had sought retrospective approval to retain numerous alterations and extensions to the premises, including a licensed nightclub known as Bar Code, which local residents maintain is a constant source of noise and nuisance.

The appeals board upheld Dublin City Council's decision to grant permission for the retention of elements of the complex, including a health clinic, entrance lobby, offices and storage on the basis that these were ancillary to its use as a leisure centre.

But the board upheld the council's decision to refuse permission for other extensions which were all built without planning approval.

The board specified in its ruling that the elements being retained "shall not be used at any time for the sale or consumption of intoxicating liquor".

The board also refused permission to Templeville Developments Ltd, owners of the Westwood complex, which boasts that it provided Ireland's first 50-metre swimming pool, to retain a Bram Stoker museum called the "Dracula Experience".

The leisure centre is located near Marino Crescent, where Dracula author Bram Stoker was born.

Templeville Developments, which is controlled by businessman Phillip Smyth, also operates leisure centres in Leopardstown and Sandymount.

Local residents have opposed Bar Code's licence and monthly special exemptions in the District Court. The Garda also opposed these exemptions on two recent occasions and Dublin City Council opposed the yearly licence renewal last year, all without success.

Residents of Clontarf Road, lower Howth Road and Marino Crescent told the board they can clearly hear the "thud, thud, bang, bang beat of amplified disco/rave/techno music four nights a week, waking our children and disrupting family life, resulting in severe sleep deprivation".

They also complained of "chaos" when the nightclub finally closes its doors after 2.30am, disgorging up to 1,300 young people, most of whom have been drinking for several hours, onto the junction of Clontarf Road and Howth Road in search of taxis.

One local resident, Stephen Moran, told An Bord Pleanála that this "causes incredible traffic noise and congestion with a cacophony of cars horns screeching, cat calling, doors banging, screaming and singing as patrons weave their way across the road.

"Sometimes, there can be a shortage of taxis or people linger during summertime or else set off on foot up the Howth Road or along the Crescent, urinating, vomiting, overturning bins, fighting, breaking wing mirrors, singing and shouting as they go," said Mr Moran.

"The waste of Garda time, manpower and scarce resources in policing this unauthorised development is also worth noting as Clontarf Garda station confirm that it requires five uniformed gardaí and a Garda sergeant and a wagon to police Bar Code four nights a week," he said.

An Bord Pleanála planning inspector Fiona Fair recommended that all of the unauthorised elements of the Westwood Leisure Centre which Templeville Developments was seeking to retain should be refused on the basis of its planning history and local objections.

"It appears that the proposed development relates to a site, the use of which is unauthorised, for the carrying on of 'Bar Code', a licensed premises for the sale and consumption of alcoholic liquor," she said, adding that any retention would consolidate this use.

Although the board decided to grant retrospective permission for uses ancillary to the leisure centre as well as one of a total of 15 shipping containers on the site - used to house a combined heat and power plant - it rejected other elements, including Bar Code.

"When taken in conjunction with existing permitted development, [this would] constitute over-development of the site and would be contrary to zoning objective Z9 'to protect, provide and improve recreation amenity and open space'," the board said.

Efforts to contact Templeville Developments for comment on An Bord Pleanála's decision were unsuccessful.

The Irish Times

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