A Skerries couple – who had planned to build a hotel on a stunning site in the seaside town, but who subsequently lost their home in the process – are hoping that a new glamping plan can bring closure to a tortuous two decade-long saga with Ireland’s planning system.
Alison Ryan and her husband Michael Branagan, who both grew up in the town, now have plans to develop a glamping project – as well as a guesthouse – on a coastal site overlooking the Skerries Islands, at Holmpatrick on the edge of the north Dublin town.
Ryan told the Sunday Independent that, at the time of the rejection of the hotel plans in 2017, the family had faced potential financial ruin after what they had already invested in their high-profile proposal.
Branagan has since gone back to his day job as a qualified chartered accountant, but Ryan is spearheading the family’s bid to bring the glamping project on a 15-acre portion of the site over the line.
The site is also potentially part of the route to be used for the long-awaited coastal greenway planned for the area, she said.
“We have come through all of that and dusted ourselves down,” she said. “This certainly was not what we dreamed of when we started out on this project 20 years ago.
“Our goal was to bring something really good to the town. We lost our home and went through huge anguish. But we’re determined to fight on and do something that will be really beneficial.”
When the planners rejected the hotel plan – a decision which sparked local outrage – the family lost control of a five-acre portion of the almost 30-acre site.
The five acres, which were zoned residential, were bought out of receivership by a developer who has since sought permission to build 18 houses.
But in yet another twist in the saga of the Holmpatrick land, this plan has now been rejected by Fingal County Council.
That latest decision on the 18 houses has since been appealed to An Bord Pleanála ( ABP) by the developer, supported by Ryan – despite her having once thought that she and her husband would develop this part of the site.
She has written to ABP in support of the new housing plan, because of the potential impact of the rejection on a smaller residential site still owned by the family.
Ryan also recently wrote to both ABP and Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien seeking, unsuccessfully, to have the 2017 decision included in an enquiry into entirely separate alleged planning matters by former deputy chair of ABP Paul Hyde.
Hyde had chaired the three-person board that rejected the Holmpatrick plan, but the much anticipated report into his alleged conduct in his role at ABP was last week delivered to Minister O’Brien by barrister Remy Farrell.
Before its rejection by ABP, the Holmpatrick Cove project had been supported by the vast majority of local Fingal County Councillors, including the now Housing Minister.
ABP rejected the plan at the time, claiming it was inappropriate development for what was described as “a rural cluster”. One Green Party councillor, critical of the rejection, described it in the council chamber as “the most urban rural cluster in Fingal”.
The refusal by the board also sparked protests, marches and petitions by residents at the time in the north Dublin town. There had been wide support for the project because it would have delivered both a hotel and a swimming pool – both lacking in the town.
Ryan had also at the time blogged extensively about the experience.
“It is very unusual for people to march in favour of a development. The only other example I can think of was the Apple site in Athenry.
“The marches were an example of local democracy and public participation at its best. But they were powerless to overturn the planning decision,” she said.
“We have always wanted to open up that land to be enjoyed by local people, because it’s such a stunning site. But at the moment it is open to nobody. We were hit by a body blow back in 2017 – but we are fighting on,” she said.