Hell Fire Club’s €15m tourism project objections dismissed

Hell Fire Club’s €15m tourism project objections dismissed

By Aideen O'Flaherty

An attempt by a local residents’ group to get a High Court order overturning planning permission for a €15m visitor centre and tourism project at the Hellfire Club has been unsuccessful.

As previously reported in The Echo, the tourism project includes plans for the development of a visitor centre with an exhibition space, a panoramic café, toilets, changing facilities, a walkers’ lounge, an education centre and retail at the Hellfire Club.

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Justice Humphreys said visitor numbers ‘a process of estimation’

The Hellfire Massey Residents’ Association (HMRA), made up of residents from the Cruagh, Mount Venus, Kilakee, Stocking Lane and Edmondstown areas, brought the legal action against An Bord Pleanála, the State and South Dublin County Council.

The applicant claimed that the visitor numbers for the project that were provided in the planning application by the council were “without foundation” and as such the board “acted unlawfully” by taking them into account.

In his judgement last Friday, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said that predicting future visitor numbers “is a process of estimation”, the local authority’s projected visitor numbers contained “an element of empirical measurement” and the applicant “did not put forward any contrary statistical information”.

He also dismissed claims of non-compliance with section 175 of the Planning and Development Act regarding public notice of the plans.

Specifically, the HMRA claimed that the closure of Ballyroan Library – where the plans were on public display – for nine days as a result of the coronavirus pandemic represented a breach of section 175.

Mr Justice Humphreys said the applicant was not inhibited in making a submission as a result of the library closure, and had in fact done so.

He added that if there was a “technical breach”, which he did not accept, “it would bring the law into disrepute to uphold such an opportunistic attempt to invalidate a planning permission merely because a particular library had to be closed due to the Covid-19 emergency”.

However, Mr Justice Humphreys said he would refer some issues of European law raised by the HMRA to the Court of Justice of the EU for determination.

One of the issues raised by the HMRA that was referred to the EU court concerns Irish regulations in 2011 which implemented the European Birds and Habitats Directives, and whether they are invalid due to the lack of public participation required for projects which are subject to a derogation application after receiving planning permission.

The matter has been adjourned for six weeks. A spokesperson for HMRA told The Echo that they were disappointed they didn’t succeed in trying to overturn An Bord Pleanála’s ruling, however they are pleased that some of the issues raised will be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU. They added that the residents’ association will be consulting with their legal team in the coming weeks.

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