Pre-schools warned of insurance risk if they breach planning
Many pre-school facilities in Ireland are operating in breach of planning laws, according to an organisation representing childcare workers.
The Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP) said the problem was “a huge issue” with potential legal and insurance ramifications.
In one area alone, seven pre-school facilities were issued with warning letters by their local authority in recent weeks.
These stated that they were operating in breach of planning conditions or, in one instance, had no planning permission.
Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council said it issued the warnings after receiving a complaint on the issue. It is understood that over 50 premises were identified in the complaint.
“Upon examination of these complaints, planning-enforcement files were opened for seven locations and warning letters for alleged unauthorised development were issued,” the council said in a statement.
In most of the cases identified, the pre-school facilities were alleged to be catering for more than was allowed under their planning permission.
In one case, a pre-school service in a parish pastoral centre was warned that it was operating with no planning permission at all.
The businesses involved were each given four weeks to respond to the warnings.
The council said its inspectors could conduct investigations, including site visits, to establish whether or not the planning laws had been breached. If a breach was detected and not satisfactorily regularised, the council could take further measures “which may result in the serving of enforcement notices and prosecution in the courts, it added.
A number of the businesses involved told the Irish Independent they had since been in contact with the council to resolve the issues raised.
Some are in the process of seeking retention permission.
An examination of planning files and Tusla inspection reports shows there is quite often a gap between the capacities allowed by planners and those allowed by Tusla, which regulates the area.
While Tusla bases the number on the available floor space per child and safety considerations, council planners quite often limit numbers further in order to minimise traffic and safeguard residential amenity.
However, even if Tusla allows larger numbers than the planners, pre-school operators must limit their capacity to what is allowed under their planning conditions.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said persons intending to provide a childcare service must obtain planning permission. The only exemption is for child minding in a person’s home involving no more than five children.She said it was also a term of the free pre-school year scheme, the Early Childhood Care and
Education (ECCE) programme, that participating businesses must be compliant with all planning and fire-safety legislation.
However, ACP chairperson Marian Quinn said she was aware of a number of premises which had opened without planning permission and only secured it at a later stage. This left the door open to insurers to not pay out on claims in a situation where a premises was not compliant with planning, she added.
“It would be a concern. It would be a get-out-of-jail-free clause for insurance companies which would leave the family of the child that was injured in trouble,” she said.
Tusla said it did not have the power to enforce planning laws, but did refer suspected breaches to local councils.
“At times we do identify that some services are not compliant with their planning application and we would inform the local authority,” it said.
The seven childcare facilities recently issued with warnings
Star Tots Crèche and Montessori, 81 Lower Kilmacud Road, Stillorgan, Co Dublin
In a warning letter sent on July 17, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council said it was investigating the alleged breach of a planning condition limiting numbers at the crèche to 54.
The most recent Tusla inspection report for Star Tots, dated March 2013, said the number of notified places was 117. Proprietor Natalie Roberts said she had been “very naïve” about the planning process and was now applying for retention permission. She said the council was happy for the crèche to continue operating while the application was being considered.
“I didn’t realise one of the conditions was that you were only allowed to have a certain amount of children. Otherwise, I would have rectified it a long time ago,” she said.
Noelle’s Montessori, 10 Watson Road, Killiney, Co Dublin
The business was issued with a warning letter from Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council on July 20, stating that an investigation had been launched into an alleged breach of its planning conditions, which state that no more than 20 children can be catered for.
The most recent Tusla report for the Montessori, dated March 2011, said the number of notified places was 36. A call seeking comment received no response.
Hanahoe Childcare, 19 Ballinclea Heights, Killiney, Co Dublin
A warning letter issued on July 20 by the council stated that it was investigating an allegation that the business was breaching a planning condition limiting its capacity to 16 children.
Proprietor Ann Hanahoe said she had 20 children attending her service. She said the HSE had approved the premises for up to 24 children a number of years ago. She has now engaged an architect to deal with the council’s planning concerns.
Room to Grow, 1 Watson Road, Killiney, Co Dublin
The council issued a warning letter on July 17, saying it was investigating an allegation that Room to Grow was catering for more than the 20 children allowed under the planning permission granted for the premises.
The most recent Tusla inspection report, dated August 2011, said the number of notified places was 54. Calls seeking comment received no response.
Buttercup Crèche, Landscape Road, Churchtown, Dublin 14
A warning letter dated July 17 from the council stated that it was investigating allegations that the business was catering for more than the 32 children allowed under its planning conditions.
It also stated it had been alleged that the crèche was operating at 7.45am, which was a breach of planning conditions.
The most recent Tusla inspection report for the crèche, dated September 2011, said the number of notified places was 37.
A call seeking comment was not responded to.
Dimples Crèche & Montessori, 135 Ballyogan Road, Carrickmines, Dublin 18
The council issued a warning letter on July 17, stating it was investigating allegations that in excess of 40 children were being catered for, in breach of planning conditions. The most recent Tusla inspection report for the crèche, dated June 2013, said the number of notified places was 62.
Proprietor Jason Doyle said the premises had been expanded and a planning application was being submitted to regularise the situation. He said a fire certificate had already been secured.
Stepping Stones Playschool, Foxrock Pastoral Centre, Kill Lane, Foxrock, Dublin 18
A warning letter from the council, dated July 17, said it was investigating the alleged operation of a crèche for 13 children without the benefit of valid planning permission.
A Tusla inspection report from March of this year said there were 12 children present. A call seeking comment received no response.