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Home improvement or crime scene?

PLANS by journalist Fintan O'Toole to more than quadruple the size of his second home have been described by An Tasice as "criminal". In a hard-hitting objection, lodged with Clare County Council, to the plans for his holiday home near the coastal village of Ballyvaughan, An Taisce has lambasted the proposal. "We have been requested by the locals to object to the design of the development," the objection reads.

PLANS by journalist Fintan O'Toole to more than quadruple the size of his second home have been described by An Tasice as "criminal".

In a hard-hitting objection, lodged with Clare County Council, to the plans for his holiday home near the coastal village of Ballyvaughan, An Taisce has lambasted the proposal.

"We have been requested by the locals to object to the design of the development, which they find is not in keeping with the landscape and could be likened to an infection on the west coast road and is unacceptable and criminal," the objection reads.

The Clare Association of An Taisce says it is objecting to the proposal "as it lies along a protected coastline within the Burren complex, along a scenic route, would be visually obtrusive, and the density is not in keeping with the original dwelling, nor is its design".

In a separate submission, An Taisce stated: "This is a holiday home, as the applicants live in Dublin, and may not be in keeping with the local development plan."

The O'Toole family bought the two-bedroom house home that lies along the coast road south of Ballyvaughan overlooking Galway Bay in 2002 and the Dubliner does much of his writing there.

In the plan, Mr O'Toole is seeking to increase the floor area from 39 square metres to 180 square metres, with a split-level extension that includes a living room, kitchen and additional bedroom.

The Irish Times columnist, who is currently working in China, expressed regret over the language used by An Taisce.

Ironically, Mr O'Toole has supported An Taisce in the past against attacks from politicians.

In 2004, he wrote that "in some parts of Ireland, admitting membership of An Taisce is to invite the pariah status of a paedophile".

Speaking yesterday, he said he fully accepted An Taisce's role in the scrutiny of planning applications, especially in an area as sensitive as the Burren.

"My one regret in this case is that An Taisce itself might be discredited by the use of wildly disproportionate language.

"I don't see how the rational discussion of the place of contemporary architecture in sensitive landscapes is furthered by labelling people who try to put forward responsible plans as part of an open and democratic planning process as criminals.

"For more than 20 years now, we've spent a great deal of time in Ballyvaughan and hope to live there eventually. The house is not intended primarily as a holiday home but as a place to write. Most of my last book, 'White Savage', was written there.

"In submitting plans for the house, we have been extremely conscious of the special nature of the landscape and have tried to be environmentally responsible. We engaged a very distinguished locally-based architect with a superb record of designing buildings that are sensitive to the Burren landscape.

"The project involves the restoration of an old house with features more in keeping with its original design. The water supply will be from the mains, so no septic tank is proposed. A geothermal ground pump will supply clean, renewable energy.

"We always expected the planners to look very closely at our proposals and are completely open to their suggestions."

The plan has now been put on hold as the council has stated that it has a number of concerns over the proposal.

The council has told Mr O'Toole it has concerns over "the visual impact of the proposed extension upon the landscape and scenic route" and has requested that revised plans be submitted that omit the first-floor study.

It has also stated that it has "serious concerns" that the plan as it stands "will pose a major traffic hazard on this regional route".

The Council also points out that the visual impact of the proposed parking forecourt to the front of the house contravenes the Clare County Development Plan.

The council will make a decision on the plan, probably later this year, after further information has been submitted to it by Mr O'Toole.