Planning Submission – Athenry House – May 2022

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PREAMBLE

Dear Sir / Madam,

Thank you to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) for affording me the opportunity to reply to this first party appeal by Ghost Zapper(GZ) Limited in respect of planning reference number 21/2281 – Galway County Council.

I was first made aware of the appeal on Friday, 29 April. I had access to the appeal documentation online on Thursday, 5 May. I then had eighteen days to prepare this third party submission in which I had to go through two massive planning application files namely, the original (relevant parts again) and the ABP revised(?) documentation submitted by GZ and, trawling through the relevant material for the precedent case at Custom House Quay, Cork City – Cork City Council: 19/38589; ABP-308596-20, a massive undertaking in its own right. Contrast that with Ghost Zapper’s request to Galway County Council for an eight week extension of time in early February and used that period to run off and prepare its appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

It is important to clarify that on the subject of an oral hearing, I fully accept the absolute authority of ABP in this regard, bearing in mind that ABP and I have already gone through this process regarding an earlier planning application for this site, namely 04/5562; PL 07.214418 (oral hearing 2006).

 

1.  Introduction to my submission

I am very familiar with the subject site at Athenry House having previously submitted to ABP on two occasions in the past, namely 04/5562;PL 07.214418 in 2004-2006 and, 07/3703;PL 07.227445 in 2007. I played within and around Athenry House ruins as a child and in the vast beautiful adjoining parkland as a teenager.

More importantly, I lived all of my formative childhood and teenage years at Riversdale House, my primary home at that time, with a full-time farming father and mother who instilled in all eight children a love and passion for our local heritage and all things to do with nature and wildlife. My father acquired Riversdale House in 1951. He greatly admired the medieval town wall that bordered our land to the south and one of the very few of the thirty-plus town wall stakeholders never to build anything near the town wall long before there was any mention of a buffer zone. I studied archaeology and geography for my primary degree and archaeology (Bronze Age fulachta fiadh) for my MA at what was then University College, Galway and became a practising field archaeologist.

In this present time could I respectfully ask the Inspector assigned to this appeal and, The Board members involved in deciding this case to hop on the train or take the motorway (Exit 17) and visit,  the authentic medieval town of Athenry, that we Athenrians (pronounced ‘at-hin-ri-ans’ in a rolling fashion) are so immensely proud of.

It is a vibrant town with great people, full of energy and enthusiasm – both newly arrived and established family units and fantastically preserved external vistas of our 14th and 15th century extensive town wall remains and its attendant mural towers that attracts visitors in their thousands, both domestic and foreign, all year round. Pete St. John (the song writer from Dublin), on a train journey to Galway City, hopped off at Athenry and, the rest is history!

Many of the town’s inhabitants, therefore, were looking forward to the day when a property developer would arrive and develop this ‘greenfield’ site. It was hoped that the finished architecture would attract an equal amount of visitors inside the town wall to view the architecturally award-winning 21st century residential/commercial mix that is ‘New Quarter’. Oyster Homes, through their agents – the excellent Carrig Conservation and the brilliant (reluctantly acknowledged) Tom Phillips Associates nearly got there with 04/5562 but blew it with 07/3703 – a planning application that reflected the culture of raw greed at that time and, the ensuing Alan Ahern, Morgan Kelly and David McWilliams predicted property collapse in September 2008.  The townspeople were furious with certain aspects of the An Bord Pleanála decision (PL 07.227445) in 2007. And still are.

The excellent preservation and continuing maintenance of our urban ancient monuments is due, in large part to Galway County Council and their extremely committed, hard-working heritage and conservation officers. We could not have got better and that’s  an indisputable fact.

It is astounding and incredibly insulting, therefore, that Ghost Zapper Ltd would have the audacity to apply in writing to Galway County Council Planning Department for an eight week extension of time and use that time to prepare their case to ABP, without firstly addressing the issues brought up in the Council’s Inspector’s (123 page) report – Ghost Zapper were made aware of them. That Ghost Zapper could exercise such contempt for the local planning process by throwing their lot with ABP worries me greatly for the integrity of the whole planning process. What about the important heritage and environmental issues raised by the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage DAU? That wasn’t supposed to go to ABP, was it? These should be dealt with at local level first. Is this type of process-splitting permitted under planning law? Is it considered proper procedure?

 

2.  Submission Issues

There are eight principal issues that I wish to discuss here in my submission to ABP-313449-22.  Other topics of discussion relevant to this case that I would like to have addressed here will have to wait. The principal issues are as follows:

2.1 The issue of ‘PRECEDENT’ and the argument for ‘EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES’

Ghost Zapper Limited, through its agent John Cronin & Associates have, for the first time in this site’s history of twenty four years, introduced the issue of precedent in its appeal and cite a recent example at the Custom House Quay re-development site – ‘The Revenue Building’ (PS 818), Custom House Street, Cork City:  Cork City Council planning reference number 19/38589; ABP-308596-20. No such comparative precedent exists at the Custom House re-development site. It bears absolutely no relevance or significance to the Athenry House site – ‘The Coach House’, in any shape or form and, is definitely no precedent to the argument for ‘exceptional circumstances’. I welcome the opportunity to put this ridiculous historical comparison to bed at a later stage. I note that JCA Architects were very vague and limited in their detail regarding this precedent site in Cork City, despite their first hand knowledge and involvement in this urban industrial re-development.

 

2.2  Riversdale House and Adjoining Agricultural Lands

Ghost Zapper has no compulsion under planning law to agree a common boundary wall with an adjoining property. That’s accepted.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Riversdale House and lands doesn’t exist considering the way it is frozen out of the development narrative presently before us?  Riversdale is a living, working farm that regularly ‘runs’ limousin and hereford heifers/cows with a bull in the fields adjacent to the PDS (Proposed Development Site). It intends to continue as a working farm into the future.

Previous planning applications all respected the privacy of Riversdale House and its property. They were: 98/2159 King Estates Ltd; and 04/5562 & 07/3703 Oyster Homes Ltd.  07/3703, which is the most recent prior to 20/1384 Ghost Zapper Ltd and, the first to restrict development to the western side of the River Clarin, had open green space where Block 12 is located today – 21/2281.

In all previous planning applications the actual owners of the development companies – King Estates Ltd and Oyster Homes Ltd called in person initially to see if the owner – Mrs Norrie Monaghan ( presently 95yrs young and in great health) would sell all or part of her property in order to facilitate the adjacent property development. The answer was always the same: “This is the family loom, I couldn’t”.

Eamon Conneely (Oyster Homes) called in person several times and made several different land swap proposals and overly generous financial offers but to no avail. When it eventually got through that Riversdale House and agricultural lands were not for sale, Eamon still called to discuss development issues and other such matters common to both parties. Eamon was respectful always. King Estates and Oyster Homes left the area in front of Riversdale House completely free of development – it was to be the open space accompanying their respective developments. It’s where the revised (which planning docs do we look at now? The 21/2281 to Galway County Council or the one sent to ABP?) three storey BLOCK 12 is presently located (21/2281) and, the three storey BLOCK 13 in the previous GZ development proposal (20/1384).

The Comer Bros are a different proposition. They behave differently. For a start they never attempted, out of courtesy even, to make any form of contact with the owner regarding the extensive boundary that both properties share and the boundary treatment that both parties would mutually agree upon – the sort of conduct that one would expect from gentlemen and, the sort of conduct Mrs Monaghan had become accustomed to in the past with the two previous development company owners.

Instead, the company with the joke name – Ghost Zapper (go zap her), engaged with Riversdale in an intimidatory fashion: a family with long established roots in the area and an unusual connection to Athenry Town – Riversdale is unusual in that it is located inside the town proper (inside the town wall). But in order to go into town to shop and do other things we have to go outside to get back in to the town, and vice versa. A very interesting social history story lies behind this.

In planning application 20/1384, the Dept. of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht & the Islands, The Heritage Council and, Galway County Council Planning Authority made it very clear to Ghost Zapper that Block 13 (three storey) was unacceptable in terms of height and location. It must be scaled down or preferably removed altogether. Ghost Zapper, in planning application 21/2281 arrive back with Block 12 in the same position and three storeys high. If this is not in the realm of aggressive, intimidating behaviour towards a neighbouring residential property in order to bully them out, then let us agree to differ. Local people are outraged at the way Riversdale is treated by Ghost Zapper in not respecting its long-held privacy.  This issue needs to be dealt with by ABP!

I would respectfully ask ABP to take cognisance of the fact that the developer shares a substantial and significant boundary with Riversdale House and its adjacent lands in terms of privacy, agricultural and amenity value. It is one of five private properties sharing a common boundary with the PDS in the last fifty years. Riversdale is the only residential property of the five. It originally shared a two metre(circa) high, mid to late 19th century course limestone wall with an interesting relationship (social history-speaking) to its larger Athenry House neighbour back in the day.

The other four are:

1. Hynes’ house, next to Athenry House’s proposed pedestrian entrance. It shares a seven metre long plastered gable-end cement block wall.  It has been derelict for twenty-five years or more.

2. Sherlock & Co Solicitors which is strictly a commercial business only.

3. The permitted Aldi development site 20/41(retention) and 21/1721(revised plans) in the former Arrabawn Co-Op site. It is currently being developed by Aldi. Not a single person or group, with the exception of An Taisce, involved in the submissions to 20/1384(GZ) or 21/2281(GZ) objected to Swandive’s unLimited/Aldi(Ireland)Ltd three planning applications: 15/356; 20/41 & 21/1721. McCarthy/Keville/O’Sullivan Associates(MKO Planning & Environmental Consultants) are the main consultants to both this site and the Ghost Zapper site, which in itself stirs much interest and debate locally. John Cronin Associates(JCA) Architects are also the main architectural and heritage advisors to both the Aldi and Ghost Zapper sites. They know there is a big pedrestrian/vehicular safety issue at the Swangate junction. The bend in the road within the site which will necessitate the removal of the Coach House is a deliberate distraction and a ‘smoke-screen’.  There is a very sinister plot going on here between ‘Dennison’s Scrapyard’ site, the Aldi site and the subject site at Athenry House which will seriously compromise safety at Swangate road junction and architectural features within the subject site.

4.   Galway County Board Kenny Park GAA grounds. Caters for GAA games and local community sports events.

 

2.3  The 2007 Archaeological Excavation Report

Where is it? Why isn’t it in the public domain? This is the bible for the archaeological excavation results. It must be made public. It must be published. Why isn’t GZ/JCA Architects showing the excavation plots from the excavation report rather than making up its own two fantasy plots. I saw exactly where the excavation plots were located in 2007 and, sometimes, with the toothed bucket (yes, a toothed bucket) of a digger, hanging over the archaeologists’ heads while they worked, waiting to remove the last of the topsoil to create the surface for the playing fields in Doughiska, Galway City. The situation of no archaeological excavation report, some fifteen years later, is beyond comprehension!

2.4   The all important CEMP report

The CEMP report is the most important document in any planning application submitted by a developer. In this revised CEMP to ABP it is just over fifty pages – hardly sufficient I would imagine! In simple terms it defines the seriousness of that applicant to implement best working standards and, more importantly, its willingness to adhere to and implement the principles of best practice into the future when the project is finally completed and the project developer – Ghost Zapper, has left for good and the management company is in place. It is the-go-to-document. The seemingly sweeping statement I’m about to make would appear to be, FINALLY, over the top. I STAND FULLY BY IT.

I know for an absolute fact that if the Comer Bros get the go ahead for this project they will knock Athenry House.

At the end of this submission to this appeal you will find my hand-written signature and my name underneath.

 

N.B.  2.5  The issue of an EIAR for this site

In the 122 page Inspector’s report (PL27.308596 – Cork site) the An Bord Pleanála Inspector, Pauline Fitzpatrick notes that the Custom House Quay industrial re-development site “has a stated area of 1.198 hectares”.  In Ciara Brett’s (Cork City Archaeologist) and Niamh Twomey’s (Heritage Officer, Cork City Council) reports to the planning process, both state that the site is located outside the zone of archaeological potential for the City of Cork.  This is significant. I will remind The Board that the Custom House site is a post-medieval industrial complex, predominantly 19th century. It had multi-development changes in that period and, in the strictest sense of the phrase is a ‘brownfield site’. The Custom House site required Tower Development Properties Ltd to furnish an EIAR with their planning application, which they did. If the Custom House site required a EIAR then surely the Athenry House site requires one too. Both sites have the potential to affect marine life – one site adjacent to the coast, the other site up-stream.  Sub-threshold? I will furnish detailed information on this if The Board so requests.

 

 

 

2.6  The Discount Store at Ghost Zapper site and the Permitted Development at 20/41; 21/1721

Ghost Zapper’s/MKO written and visual drawings (very unprofessional drawings with no scale) give the impression that the discount superstore (Lidl) at the Ghost Zapper site is similar in size to the permitted Aldi discount foodstore in the former Arrabawn Co Op site – Galway County Council Reference Number: 21/1721 = revised plans. This is not correct. Aldi/MKO, for some very strange and unexplainable reason to the untrained eye, reduced both the Gross Floor Area/Net Retail Area for the permitted 15/356 Swandive unLtd. It is obvious to me why they did it. I note that MKO/JCA never mentioned planning application 21/1721 in their appeal submission to ABP for that very reason.

 

2.7   ‘Dennison’s Scrapyard’ carpark and the northern vehicular ingress/egress via Cross Street

This is critical to the whole scheme of things in terms of getting a future planning application and Lidl over the line in the not too distant future if this appeal to ABP fails. It may also be used should the Comer Bros decide to seek a judicial review. Ghost Zapper/MKO attempts to confuse it with the pedestrian entrance at Athenry House gated entrance at the Clarke Street/Cross Street junction is just comical. I have absolute confidence in the gated ashlar stone pillared entry at Clarke Street/Cross Street remaining pedestrian/cyclist only. Drawing no. ATH-CCH-OO-ZZ-DR-A-101, dated 27/10/2021 shows very clearly the capacity for LGV’s to service the Lidl superstore for both entry and exit. There are also several text references to the vehicular “Cross Street access via an existing carpark to the north” embedded in the documents submitted to ABP.

 

2.8  Outbuilding – the ‘Coach House’ and, the Road Alignment

Of all the previous seven issues mentioned, this is probably the one that An Bord Pleanála needs to pay most attention to as it is blatantly sinister on two critical fronts. Unfortunately, neither my eyesight nor time presently allows me to elaborate upon this cruelly sinister issue.

 

Concluding Remarks

The Inspector and The Board need to read every single document, word for word, submitted in this Ghost Zapper Ltd. appeal to ABP. Its appeal documentation is littered with inaccuracies and contradictions.

In the appeal documents the Comer Brothers – Luke and Barry claim to be “in the property business in Ireland for 41 years”. I can’t confirm nor deny this statement. But what I can say definitively is they only very recently entered the site purchasing and property construction side of things in Ireland around the same time as NAMA was beginning to acquire vast tracts of land. In 2009/2010/2011 or thereabouts they saw an unique opportunity for investment in Ireland and went for it. Unfortunately, the importance of heritage and cultural issues can become confused with the poverty and hardship that existed in 1950’s and 60’s Ireland. This is understandable. With no prospect of a job or a future, people had to leave. For many returnee’s this can be the abiding bitter memory of their enforced economic exile abroad.

This is an unique archaeological and historical site in the context of European cultural heritage: why was it left virtually untouched in the medieval and post-medieval periods? There is no place left in  Europe where such a similar greenfield site exists.  It is a site, in my opinion and that of many others, as important to the urban medieval/historical period of Ireland as Dr Patrick F. Wallace’s Woodquay/Fishamble Street and Christchurch Place sites are to Viking Age Ireland and Europe.

And yet, incredibly, we still await the unpublished results of an archaeological excavation carried out nearly fifteen years ago. Academic institutions, with disciplines of history and archaeology, are baffled as to why an appropriate third level college was not afforded the opportunity to carry out a research-led excavation over a period of four to five summers.

I know, from past experience (PL07.214418), that in an oral hearing situation he/she who has the best chance of winning wears the Rolex® watch: what can be described in biblical lay-person terms as ‘David and Goliath’.  Even if the Comer Bros don’t win they still have the option of going to a judicial review, which is beyond my means. BUT, I’ll go there if asked to by ABP! ABP don’t need to go to an oral hearing in this instance, but that’s the Board’s prerogative.

The Comer Bros. have run with the nuclear option to ABP, the one that so often occupies the listeners to the Pat Kenny Newstalk radio show and the SO’R radio show(RTE) in the past – ‘The wacky Board decisions’, with the mantra:

‘In you O Bord, we place our trust’.

Welcome to Athenry!

Signed:      ______________________________ .

Dominic Monaghan.

Date:        _____________________________ .

 

END.

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About this record

Written by Dominic Monaghan

Published here 13 Jul 2023 and originally published May 2022

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