In 2017 executive planners in An Bord Pleanála, led by Paul Hyde, denied Skerries a hotel, pool, playing pitches and housing. It was a plan we had worked on since 2009. It had been voted in by the elected councillors in 2011. A full Masterplan was agreed by Fingal County Council in 2013 and full planning permission granted by the council in 2017. We had everything waiting to go, an eco bulder (Baufritz) for the housing, a Uk hotel operator interested and an agreement with Aura to operate the swimming pool.
As you know we were shocked to put it mildly. Although I knew what had happened, I looked for clues in the Board under Freedom of Information, FOI. I could see how the assistant Director of Planning, AnnMarie O’Connor, (now deputy planning regulator to Niall Cussen) was mentoring a young inspector who, before that in the Board, had worked on a house extension in Lusk. Holmpatrick Cove was quite the jump with its detailed Environmental Impact Assessment covering things such as archaeology, flora and fauna including bird surveys, visual impact, transportation and traffic, archaeological and cultural heritage, noise vibration, you name it. It was covered. All scientifically based studies that had been signed off by the various departments of Fingal Co Co. Paul Hyde, Philip Jones and Terry Prendergast overturned a strong grant of planning permission from the council, in the Board. In fact, Paul Hyde added a few items for good measure before he presented it to the board. And that was that. Holmpatrick Cove was no more.
Executive planners in Fingal took up the baton since then. When the local councillors asked for a variation, the answer was no. “We’ll look at it again in the context of the next development plan” …five bloody years later. In meeting after meeting trying to progress the planning, we were met by a brick wall no matter what way we tried to move on. We were stuck between two groups of planning executives. The Board who had thrown out what was in effect Fingal’s Masterplan and Fingal Co Co ececutive who were still saying it was in their development plan, whilst ignoring the role they had played in it all by removing the statutory objectives in 2017.
Here we are “five bloody years later” and executive planners are doing what they do. The land where the hotel was to be is being zoned High Amenity. They are ruling out hotels with that zoning. So we went for a guesthouse with glamping and who knows maybe long into the future, sense might prevail……But now they want to remove the glamping. (It was voted into the Draft Plan by the councillors in March of this year). To quote the executive report; “the permanent element of the facility would render it nugatory.” I had to look up the word nugatory. It means worthless, useless or futile. That’s the official line of the executive planners. It’s in AnnMarie Farrelly, the CEO’s recommendation. She should talk to her colleagues in the Economic Development department and Tourism branch. Only as recently as 2019 an application went into Fáilte Ireland by Fingal County Council. The glamping facility on our lands was front and centre to meet the criteria for the funding. Clearly the Economic Development arm of the council doesn’t share the view that the glamping is ‘nugatory’. And nor do we. A well run, sensitively designed glamping facility would go some way to fill a gaping hole, that is the lack of overnight accommodation in our town. They got the funding, by the way.
And that’s only the glamping part. Wait until you hear what they are saying about the housing. They are pretending that the land where the housing is was High Amenity land (HA). So everything they say is based on housing on HA lands, which doesn’t apply here. They are doing what they do best and talking about this and that objective as if the land was High Amenity. Fact is it was residential over three development plans since 2001. Before that, it was agricultural, like most other houses built in Skerries over the last 50 years. So, when they say “it is not considered appropriate to zone HA zoned lands to RS/RA….and the RS zoned lands at Holmpatrick shall revert to HA zoned lands” they are misleading the councillors. In fact, using cockney rhyming slang, they are telling porky pies.
Maybe they’re going back as far as our archaeological reports that were submitted as part of the evidence based Environmental Impact Assesment. But actually, here’s an interesting fact; the archaeologist told me that our site was an industrial Bronze Age site! We have the remnants of a ‘Fulacht Fia’ (pit where water is heated for dyeing cloth and cooking) where the glamping is planned. We are hoping to make the archaeological heritage very much an attraction of our glamping, by showcasing the archaeology.
But the real reason I bring up the archaeology is the fact that the executive’s recommendations act like they don’t remember all of the scientific based studies that have already been carried out on the land over the Masterplanning and planning applications that I already referred to above. These science-based studies showed how the development would not have any adverse ecological or environmental impact locally or on any Natura 200 sites. So , when the executive says things in their recommendations like “proximity to an international bird sanctuary”, ‘potential for environmental/archaeological assessment”, “highly sensitive landscape” “coastline vulnerable to coastal erosion”, they should go talk to their own heritage officer who fully ratified all of these reports. They also are also pretending it’s “remote’ and not serviced; “absence of adequate services and infrastructure to serve the area”. They should talk to their roads and water/gas departments. It’s intentionally misleading. It’s propaganda but in fairness they did it before in 2010/11 and it gives the few objectors great ammunition.
And speaking of the few objectors. What to say?! I won’t go there. The Coastal Way will come and open up that part of Skerries to everyone, so there’s only so long they can enjoy our land for themselves. Personally, the Coastal walk can’t come soon enough. It has been an objective since the 1970s! We bought the missing link to connect Holmpatrick Cove to the Council-owned Nun’s field. We lost that land and the house attached to it (our home) in the receivership. But that’s in my other blogs. I know from my conversations with the new owner, that he will not be standing in the way of the Coastal Way. It will be a great amenity for the area and ironically, for those living on the Rush Road.
I think it’s important to mention the fact that some objectors are putting local councillors under a lot of pressure and in one case I would say it is close to harassment at this point. I refer particularly to the two councillors who are proposing and seconding the motions on Holmpatrick , Cllr Karen Power and Cllr Seána O’Rodaigh. Their motions are in support of the glamping and against the council’s attempt to de-zone the residential zoning. They along with Cllr Tom O’Leary, Cllr Grainne Maguire and Cllr Tony Murphy (all our local councillors) will be fighting our corner tomorrow, as they have done before That’s Tuesday from 3pm. Our motions should be about an hour in. I think it’s around motion 410. I would encourage anyone to log onto the Fingal Co Co Website where you can watch the debate live. You can do this by looking up the Webcasts and clicking into the live meeting. This is the sixth time we have gone through this and it doesn’t get any easier. The executive seem to go to extreme lengths to stop us. We should have gone for a municipal dump. It might have been easier!
Last quote from the executive report regarding the glamping “one submission supports Map-based objective 6 (the glamping) as set out in the Draft Plan while the vast majority of submissions are opposed to its inclusion…”. They are referring to my submission and maybe six possibly seven who wrote into the Draft Plan opposing. If you don’t think the glamping is “nugatory” and you haven’t signed the petition set up by Cllr Power, I woud be grateful if you would sign it and remind the executive what vast majority actually means. As I write this, we are 932 signatures. Thank you to everyone who has signed so far and for the comments on social media and in the Uplift petition. We are very grateful, as always, for your support.
Finally, I see in the news today that Paul Hyde (see above!) is now facing criminal charges under the Planning and Development Act. The OPR came out with the first part of two, in their Inquiry into the Board the other day. The Ditch and The Examiner have written extensively about the culture in the board and about serious questions to be asked of the Chairman, the Director of Planning and several board members. Yet the OPR was silent on this. There’s a lot to be said on this but Paul Hyde is being touted as the Ray Burke “line in the sand”. We all know how that worked out.
The Change.org petition in support of a glamping facility at Holmpatrick can be found on the link below.