INDEPENDENT TDs Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Finian McGrath have won a court battle over the use of a Galway town's car park which has allegedly caused chaos and posed a safety risk to children.
The TDs and four local residents are entitled to orders stopping any further use of the large split-level car park in Tuam town centre, which is also alleged to have adversely impacted on the architectural heritage of the medieval town, the High Court ruled.
Mr Justice John Hedigan yesterday strongly criticised the planning authorities over decisions relating to the car park beside the SuperValu store in Tuam town centre. The car park was one of eight unauthorised developments involving local businessman Joseph O'Toole who had an "extraordinary planning history", the judge said.
Mr O'Toole has a "pattern" of constructing unauthorised developments and then seeking retention permission, the judge said.
He had carried out eight unauthorised developments since 1996 and was subject of six warning or enforcement notices but was "repeatedly" granted retention permission, most recently for much of this car park development.
That history showed "little regard" by Mr O'Toole, now aged 80 and involved in business in Tuam for some 45 years, for the planning process. It also reflected "little credit" on those charged with responsibility for the integrity of the planning process in Tuam, he said. He believed Mr O'Toole must have been aware the car park works were unauthorised.
Part of a public right of way at Palace Road was removed to facilitate the car park development, he noted. He accepted "convincing and disturbing" evidence the car park is now being used as a dangerous means of accessing the nearby school, swimming pool and Palace Grounds.
A service road built without planning permission to address the safety concerns had not done so, he said.
The judge said he would make orders preventing use of the lands or structure at Town Parks, Tuam as a commercial split-level car park but, solely to minimise inconvenience for the people of Tuam, he would defer those orders to early January. He will hear submissions on the precise form of orders later this week.
He was giving his reserved judgment on proceedings brought by the two TDs and four residents of Tuam - Concepta Goss, Cllr Sean Cunniffe, school principal Stephen Lane and Daniel Travers - over the 240-space car park.. The case was against Mr O'Toole, his wife Helen and O.T.Investments Ltd as operators of the SuperValu store.
The case was initiated after Galway County Council failed to follow up a 30 day enforcement notice served on October 16, 2012, over the unauthorised car park.
In opposing the case, the respondents argued they acted in good faith at all times, did not intentionally breach planning laws and the local authorities were aware of the works being done by them.
The court heard an underground car park was originally intended as part of a proposed mixed-use development to also include a landscaped plaza, hotel, nursing home, commercial and residential units.
Permission for that development was granted, subject to 27 conditions, by An Bord Pleanala in April 2010.
As part of the conditions, the respondents agreed to provide land for an inner relief road and fund most of its construction. In turn, Galway County Council was to give them the land on which the public car park in Tuam stood, plus part of a right of way on the Palace Road.
In January 2012, Mr O'Toole announced via the Tuam Herald he had put the mixed use development on hold and ultimately did not proceed with that and instead built the current development for which no planning permission was granted.