Monday 7 February 2011

Sisters of Charity claim land 'targeted'

The Sisters of Charity have claimed a decision by Dublin City Council to impose more restrictive conditions on development of certain lands in the new development plan for Dublin appears to be “targeted” at lands owned by religious institutions.

The order wants to see where that decision originated, its lawyer said.

It claims the lands being zoned Z15, a designation it claims treats privately owned land as resource land to be used for the benefit of the community, are “almost exclusively owned by religious institutions”. There are numerous examples of lands owned by other institutions which are not subject to Z15 zoning, the order claims.

It claims the council, in sanctioning the zoning under the new Dublin city develoment plan 2011-2017, is effectively diverting private property into public ownership and effectively “sterilising” its lands without compensation.

The Z15 zoning requires a greater proportion of open space and social affordable housing than applies in any other zoming under the development plan, they also claim.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly today granted an application by Brian Murray SC, for the order, to fast-track its action against the council over the Z15 zoning of its lands.

All of the order’s 108 acres of lands in 18 separate parcels have been zoned Z15 in the new plan, imposing more restrictions on development than included in the previous plan. A similar challenge to the Z15 zoning was initiated last month by RTÉ in relation to lands at its Montrose complex at Donnybrook.

The Sisters of Charity claims the decision breaches the nuns' property rights and has serious implications for their ability to fund their religious mission and their work. The nuns said they sometimes borrow money from financial institutions to support their work and that their capacity to do this is directly affected by the value of their properties.

Mr Murray said it appeared the more restrictive zoning was applied disproportionately as it was not applied to other lands privately owned and his side wanted to see where the decision came from.

James Connolly SC, for the council, had sought an adjournment of the application to transfer the case and said he was awaiting instructions in the context of a meeting yesterday evening.

Mr Justice Kelly refused the adjournment and agreed to transfer the judicial review to the court, which fast-tracks the hearing of commercial disputes.

The High Court had last month granted leave to the order and RTÉ to bring their separate judicial review proceedings against the council arising from the zoning changes.

The Z15 designation means future uses such as housing development are not open for planning consideration which has implications for the ability of the Sisters of Charity and RTÉ to sell off land to fund their activities.

The order claims the development plan is substantively illegal on grounds it applies a restrictive zoning to an arbitrary selection of lands including St Vincent’s Private Hospital; St Mary’s day care centre, Donnybrook; the hospice at Harold’s Cross and a number of school sites in the north and south city.

It wants orders quashing the adoption of the zoning on their lands and a stay on the operation of the section of the plan affecting its property. The order is also claiming damages for alleged breaches of their private property and religious freedom rights under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Irish Times

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