Tuesday 20 August 2019

Developer Johnny Ronan fails in High Court challenge to DCC building height guidelines

Developer Johnny Ronan. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Developer Johnny Ronan. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Tim Healy

A company of developer Johnny Ronan has failed in a High Court challenge to Dublin City Council's legal interpretation of building height guidelines over a docklands development.

Spencer Place Development Company, of which Mr Ronan is a director, has two applications before the council, which are due for a decision on Friday (May 31), for a commercial and residential development in the North Lotts/Grand Canal strategic development zone (SDZ) of the north Dublin docklands.

The company wants to be allowed a building height of between seven and 13 storeys in accordance with general building height guidelines. The SDZ planning scheme for the lands only permits heights of up to ten storeys, according to the council.

The company challenged the council's legal interpretation of  those December 2018 "Urban Development and Building Heights" guidelines issued by the Minister for Housing Planning and Local Government. 

It claimed the council, in this case, was incorrect in law and it acted outside its powers. It also claimed the council was obliged to apply a provision of the general height guidelines prior to undertaking any review of the SDZ planning scheme.

The council disputed those claims and said the challenge was premature given it had not even decided the planning applications.

Mr Justice Garrett Simons, in a judgment on Thursday, dismissed the company's case in its entirety.

He said the general height guidelines issued in December do not apply to the SDZ planning scheme for North Lotts/Grand Canal. The most they require is for the local authority to review and amend that scheme and it must be carried out in accordance with prescribed procedure.

In particular, he said, it may be necessary to undertake an environmental assessment of any such amendments in order to comply with an EU directive governing such matters.

In any event, it will be necessary to seek the confirmation of An Bord Pleanála to any amendments to the existing SDZ planning scheme, he said.

Pending the making of any such amendment, a planning application falls to be determined under the Planning and Development Act 2000 by reference to the extant local planning scheme, he said.

"On their correct interpretation, therefore, the building height guidelines do not authorise a planning authority to disapply the criteria prescribed under a planning scheme for an SDZ".

The judge was also satisfied no prejudice would have been caused to the developer  if it had been required  to await the outcome of the planning applications before instituting its judicial review proceedings.

The case was brought after the council's planning officer, John O'Hara, issued a briefing note about how the general height guidelines could be interpreted. The developer became concerned that it meant the planning applications would be refused.

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