Judicial review sought to overturn planning board decision
By Frank Connolly.
The residents of a housing estate in Ashbourne, County Meath, are fighting to retain the only open space available to their children after a decision by An Bord Pleanála (ABP) to grant permission for three apartment blocks on the land.
The Millbourne Residents Association (MRA) has waged a stern campaign of resistance over more than a decade against developer, Michael Ryan, who wants to build apartments on the last remaining green space in the 280-house estate.
When they purchased homes in the estate, residents assumed that the half-acre green would remain as a play area for children. For a decade, the developer through his company Rybo Partnership Ltd has pursued plans for housing on the land and has finally succeeded at ABP in an appeal against the rejection of his latest proposals by Meath County Council. In February, his company erected a fence around the green area provoking a protest by residents.
The decision in September last by ABP to reject the advice of its own inspector and the appeal by residents to retain the only field available to their children has baffled the community, local representatives, and their legal and planning team.
Ryan came to prominence some years ago after he was acquitted on charges of bribing Waterford Councillor, Fred Forsey, with a €60,000 payment in return for zoning favours.
In 2015, the developer was also dragged into a major controversy over the construction by his company, Saltan Properties Ltd of apartments at Riverwalk Court in Ratoath, after owners discovered fire hazards and rotting balconies, among other serious defects.
Meath County Council which issued the fire safety certificates for the homes built in 2002 has since granted Ryan further permissions to build homes in the County.
Since 2004, residents have successfully opposed three attempts by Rybo to construct houses on the 0.5 acre acre strip of land, arguing that it is the only green area for children and represents just 5% of the entire estate. The Meath County Development Plan requires that 15% of housing developments should comprise of green and recreational space.
In its most recent application, Rybo and its advisors, Future Analytics Consulting Ltd, have sought permission for three, three-storey blocks containing 30 apartments, as well as parking and storage space on the land. After an earlier application for housing on the site was refused by ABP, Rybo was granted permission to build a strip road which has allowed it access to the site, thus facilitating its latest, successful application.
In direct contradiction to the recommendation of its inspector, APB deputy chairman, Paul Hyde said:
“In deciding not to accept the Inspector’s recommendations to refuse permission, the Board was satisfied, having regard to the range of amenities within close proximity of the site, including the permitted linear park to the east, neighbouring sports grounds to the south and adjoining schools to the south, that the proposed development on this residential zoned site, which provides adequate public space for the quantum of the development proposed, would not result in a lack of public open space for the adjoining permitted residential development which the Board considered to be adequately served by the wider range of existing amenities including as cited above”.
According to the MRA, this observation is in stark contrast with the realities on the ground and is also in breach of the Meath Development Plan, despite the claim to the contrary by An Bord Pleanála. The ABP conclusion is also factually inaccurate, the residents argue.
“The linear park has been under development since 2003 and only one out of its seven proposed zones has been completed and is located 900 metres from the Millbourne estate. The neighbouring sports grounds and schools referred to by the ABP are private properties which are fenced off and inaccessible to the children of Millbourne estate as open space”, said Jason McCann of MRA.
“As a father of three young children I am completely distraught by this; as a mortgage holder I pay my taxes, I work hard. I feel at the very least that an impartial planning body should come up with the right decision. It is shocking. Families here are completely disillusioned with the whole planning process. All we want is somewhere for our children to play”.
Indeed ABP has previously refused development on the existing green area precisely because it “would contravene the stated objectives in the 2013-2019 Meath County Development Plan which seek a minimum rate of public open space of 15% of the total site area”.
Further, Meath County Council has accepted the appeals of residents; and its Chief Executive, Jackie Maguire, has said she supports a motion to be heard by Councillors at their next meeting to re-zone the green area for recreational purposes.
The residents are also planning to take judicial review proceedings against the decision by ABP to allow the Rybo apartment plan to proceed and are raising money from residents of the estate to fund the legal action.
Their advisors, Marston Planning Consultancy, have also argued how the proposal by Rybo “will result in the denudation of the open space” and is “contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”. Marston also submits that the reduction of visitor parking for the existing houses on the already narrow street fronting the green area “will result in a traffic hazard”.
Future Analytics, the consultancy firm which acts for Rybo and its owner, Michael Ryan, made a submission to ABP in support of his planning application and has lobbied public officials on his behalf. Ryan has built relationships with local representatives including former Fine Gael TD and now Senator Regina Doherty with whom he has worked on local issues.
The advice centre of local independent Councillor, Nick Killian, is also located in Riverwalk House, also built by Ryan, while Ashbourne Fine Gael Councillor, Alan Tobin, has met with the developer and the Millbourne residents on the contentious issue.
Local Independent Councillor, Joe Bonner, has campaigned for the retention of the open space and is concerned that the re-zoning of the land for recreational use will be too late to prevent the construction of the apartment blocks.
“The decision of ABP is incomprehensible. The board justifies it on the basis that there is a housing shortage but does that mean people can build anywhere they like? This is the most obvious example of a lack of open space I have ever come across. The site is also on a flood plain.
In its submission to ABP, Mr Ryan maintained that he had engaged with Councillors and residents in relation to the issue. He certainly has not engaged with me. People are very upset. It is proposed to re-zone the land in the development plan but there is already a planning permission by ABP which allows Rybo to proceed no matter what is decided by the Council. If the judicial review fails, the developer can build right away no matter what happens”, Joe Bonner told Village.