Saturday 21 September 2019

'You don't want your sun-blistered body on Instagram' - Pat Kenny on Bord Pleanála battle


Pat Kenny pictured with his wife Kathy. Picture: Arthur Carron
Pat Kenny pictured with his wife Kathy. Picture: Arthur Carron
Before and after impressions of what the proposed development would look like from Pat’s and next door neighbour’s homes
Before and after impressions of what the proposed development would look like from Pat’s and next door neighbour’s homes
The view looking west from Pat and Kathy Kennys' house at the moment. From the submission to An Bord Pleanála.
The view looking west from Pat and Kathy Kennys' house once the development goes in. From the submission to An Bord Pleanála.
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

'I've had my wars," says Pat Kenny while musing on his battles to defend the purlieus of his home.

After shelling out €1m in 2008 to settle a dispute with his neighbours, the Charltons, over who owned a nearby field, the Newstalk presenter enjoyed a decade of serenity.

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But now another battle has landed on his doorstep - this time against the might of property developer Richard Barrett's company Bartra Capital.

In the Charlton saga, newspaper reports told of raised fists and jostling. Now accusations of unsolicited drones are making headlines. It's a sign of how times have changed - yet Kenny's resolve to protect his patch remains the same.

Before and after impressions of what the proposed development would look like from Pat’s and next door neighbour’s homes
Before and after impressions of what the proposed development would look like from Pat’s and next door neighbour’s homes

"My home is everything to me," he tells the Sunday Independent. "It is our haven. It's where we [he and his wife Kathy] have peace from the world because I am 'out there' all the time and involved in the current affairs of the day and it's nice to be able to get back home and just switch off and that has been possible - up to this."

Kenny says it's fair game when he is in public. "If anyone stops and asks for a selfie I am always willing to oblige. I could be having dinner with Kathy somewhere and someone will come over and ask for that, because the mammy loves me or whatever, and that's always fine. But when you go home you are not public property any more."

Following news that An Bord Pleanala granted Bartra Capital planning permission for a block of 18 apartments and six homes - in spite of its own inspector recommending refusal on the grounds that they would "overlook" and "seriously injure" adjoining properties - Kenny feels his privacy could be compromised.

"In theory, they should not [see in] unless they get up on what is going to be a sedum [planted garden] roof. But there could be some eejit up on the sedum roof looking down on me," he says. "And you wouldn't necessarily want to see your sun-blistered body on Instagram."

But he will not let that prospect - or any other - move him from his sanctum. "I will stay," he says resolutely. "I like it where I am."

Kenny takes a "degree of comfort" that the block was reduced by one storey after the couple's objections, which they filed along with a group of neighbours.

He describes how his wife became interested in the matter. "She had a crash course in reading drawings. She was the one who spotted when Bartra changed the locations of stairs and lift shafts - something everyone seems to have missed - and she brought it to the attention of the board," he says. "She has spent the last few months on this - devoting herself entirely to looking at drawings and following up on everything - because I am at work every day.

"For me, it is kind of a part-time activity in the evenings, but for her, it is utterly consuming."

On her reaction to the verdict, Kenny says she feels "a sense of acute disappointment in the arms of the State".

One big concern the couple have is security, with Kenny saying: "Threats have been delivered to RTE and even in Newstalk over the last few years where the gardai have had to be involved. It could be any interview or anything that annoys someone."

And he rejects accusations of Nimbyism outright: "It is not about 'not in my back yard'. We welcome manners being put on the site and a development being put in. We just felt this was the wrong one."

Instead he describes Bartra's plans as "a greedy application".

"They could have done a very nice and very profitable development in a more reasonable way. But they just squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. It's a bit like co-living - squeeze as much blood out of the stone as you possibly can."

He also laughs at how the development is pitched as somewhere for 'empty nesters' to live given the lack of nearby transport and "the idea that someone on their Zimmer frame in their eighties is going to hobble out of their apartment and walk 2km to the Dart".

Far from being removed from the everyday concerns of a public in the midst of a housing crisis, Kenny believes this fight is not just about him, but an issue that affects ordinary citizens too: "I am wondering again and again 'what about the small guy who can't put his hand in his pocket?' If he finds a developer next door looming over his semi-D or his cottage and he doesn't have the money to point up the deficiencies in the plans, he is trampled on. And that's my issue.

"You depend on the board and the council to actually review plans thoroughly and defend the little guy."

He says it is unfair for others impacted in the same way, adding: "If they don't have resources they are defenceless."

But Kenny and his neighbours do have the means. It costs €15,000 to lodge an appeal and the bill could reach up to €150,000 to take on the battle. Still, Kenny says: "I don't intend to waste a huge pile of money just for the sake of it."

The group will meet in the coming weeks to decide "if we are going to spend money in the hope of overturning the board who will be defending themselves with our money [taxpayers' money] or whether to throw in the towel".

He calls himself and his neighbours "a band of brothers" and takes issue the idea that there might be a lack of sympathy for residents in the affluent area: "Dalkey is such a great mixture of the well-heeled who built their own homes, like I did, and people who live in cottages, ordinary people, people who fish... and I think there is a conceit that people have in their heads that Dalkey is all kind of 'D4 with knobs on'. That's not the way it is at all.

"We just wander down the street and there are small cottages which local people have lived in all their lives. Everyone mixes when we have our lobster festival and our book festival. Everybody is as one. There is not that sense of 'us and them' and privilege."

On whether people might view their plight as "first world problems", Kenny admits: "In a way if you are living on a rubbish heap in a barrio in Rio our problems are inconsequential of course, but at the same time Eoghan Murphy and whoever occupies his office has a responsibility to build for the future, not to create the problems of the future."

As for developer Richard Barrett, Kenny stresses he has no problem with the man himself: "We don't have an issue with Richard Barrett. We have an issue with the planning authorities. Developers do what developers do - why does a fox kill chickens?"

But he adds: "It is up to the arms of the State, the local councils, the planners and the board to keep them in check. That's their job, to make sure when they build, they build well."

No matter what happens, however, Kenny has vowed to live out his days in the leafy enclave.

"It is a special little place that we have. It's quiet, it's private, it's secluded, its not on a main road, so it's very hard to find a place like that in Dalkey - or indeed anywhere else."

Sunday Independent

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