Wednesday 21 July 2010

Council's planning decisions causing some concern on Rosslare Strand

An Bord Pleanála has overturned decisions to permit large-scale houses for being ‘out of character’ with sensitive area of Co Wexford

ROSSLARE STRAND has been a holiday resort since the railway station there was opened in 1882 and was characterised until recently by modest holiday homes, clad in painted corrugated iron sheeting.

During the boom, clusters of suburban-style houses were developed in and around the village – generally also to serve as holiday homes.

“There is a lot of [Dublin] money chasing a home in Rosslare and really most of the village has been developed,” one local source said.

Wexford County Council’s 2002 local area plan for Rosslare specified that “new building designs must respect the existing village character, scale and streetscape [to] enhance the appearance of the area”. It also sought to “maintain coastal areas/headlands free from development”.

However since this plan expired in 2007, and with no new local area plan to replace it, there has been a series of decisions to permit very large individual houses on Cliff Road – which were all overturned by An Bord Pleanála for being “out of character” with the area.

The county council denied any irregularities in its handling of recent applications to build large- scale houses at Cliff Road, Rosslare Strand, an area known to be at risk from coastal erosion and subsidence.

The council itself noted in 2008 that there were “visible signs of cracking on the road itself”. Some local residents and holiday home owners fear further housing development in the area could ultimately result in their own properties falling into the sea.

After an internal examination of a number of planning files, deputy county manager Eamonn Hore said a claim of “some sort of pressure being applied” was “completely unsubstantiated”. He added: “I am satisfied that there are no planning irregularities whatsoever.”

This followed a written complaint by Dublin resident Weston Allen, whose parents own a semi-detached bungalow at Cliff Road. Mr Allen and others had objected to development in the vicinity, including a large house planned by Brendan Hickey of Davy Hickey Properties.

An offshoot of Davy Stockbrokers, Davy Hickey Properties spearheaded the development of Citywest Business Park, in which Mr Hickey held a substantial stake. Other shareholders included David Shubotham of Davy and former lobbyist Frank Dunlop.

Designed by Crean Salley Architects, Mr Hickey’s proposed 407sq m house was described as “a detached, two-storey, four- bedroomed house with boathouse/ garage and gazebo, balconies to bedrooms” on the front elevation an+d high boundary walls.

Carmel Brislane, the junior planner who dealt with this application, considered that the height, mass, scale and design of the house would “seriously injure the amenities of the area”.

“It is my opinion that the bulk of the proposed development is still excessive.”

But Ms Brislane’s report noted that senior executive planner Marcus Linehan had “assessed the plans at pre-planning [stage] and informed the application [sic]/ agent that the plans are acceptable”.

Accordingly, she “considered it is unreasonable” to recommend refusal.

After Mr Allen and others appealed to An Bord Pleanála, planning inspector John Desmond noted that the council had previously refused permission for a three-storey house on the same site on the grounds of visual impact and concerns about the stability of the cliff.

Mr Desmond’s report also noted that the appeals board had overturned three other decisions by the council to grant permission for houses there because it considered that they would be out of character with the generally single-storey pattern of housing in the vicinity.

The inspector described the dune system and beach area of Rosslare Strand as “delicate ecosystems under threat” and said that any new developments along the seaboard “should respect, not exploit, their exceptional coastal location”.

In Mr Hickey’s case, he wrote that the planned house “reads as a large suburban home and inappropriate in the modest and exposed coastal setting”, while its “formal stone boundary wall with railings atop also bears no relation to the character of the area”.

An Bord Pleanála agreed, refusing permission on the basis that the height, scale, massing and design would be “out of character with properties in the immediate vicinity” and would be “unduly visually obtrusive on this exposed coastal site”.

Notwithstanding the board’s decision, Mr Hore said the council’s senior planner and the county architect were “happy to recommend the development as applied for, subject to conditions”. It was also a “relatively rare instance” where the planners disagreed.

Mr Hickey, who is from Wexford, had previously got permission for six two-storey houses on the site, which he bought more than 20 years ago, but he decided not to proceed with these plans, opting instead for a future family home. He would not comment further.

A plan by Co Laois businessman David Keane would demolish an existing bungalow – reportedly bought for €1.3 million in 2007 – divide the site and replace it with two new houses, one a substantial dormer bungalow and the other a two-storey house.

Despite the record of An Bord Pleanála’s decisions on schemes for Cliff Road, this was approved by senior planner Diarmuid Houston. A note on the file said: “Discussed with county architect. The proposed site is suitable for two dwellings within the zoned area . . .”

Mr Hore defended giving advice to applicants, particularly at pre-planning stage, as good practice.

“Indeed, you may be interested to note that Wexford County Council won the 2008 national award for customer service in planning, presented by Minister Gormley.”

However, he told Mr Allen that he agreed with his contention that “in this case, it would have been most helpful if the reasoning had been more clearly set out on the original planning file” and he would direct that this be done “in all instances such as this”.

Wexford is not among the seven local authorities whose planning performance is being subjected to a two-stage review, in response to dossiers submitted by An Taisce and others.

Mr Allen has now written to the Minister calling on him to include Wexford County Council in the current planning review, saying its recent handling of planning applications “on our small cul-de- sac of only some 750m, indicates to me that all is not well”.

Irish Times

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