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Wexford homeowner’s frustration with council’s inaction over planning enforcement – ‘I shouldn’t have to fight to feel safe in my home’

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Eric Norton pictured outside his home in Ardamine on Tuesday. Pic: Jim Campbell

Eric Norton pictured outside his home in Ardamine on Tuesday. Pic: Jim Campbell

Eric Norton pictured outside his home in Ardamine on Tuesday. Pic: Jim Campbell

goreyguardian

A man with a home in Ardamine has expressed his frustration with Wexford County Council for allowing an unauthorised mobile home to remain on neighbouring land, despite a mobile in the same place causing €23,000 in fire damage to his home in 2017.

Seventy-three-year-old Eric Norton has owned a house adjacent to O Loughlin’s Mobile Home Site in Ardamine since 2009 and spends his time between this house and his house in Dublin. 

In 2012, he first expressed his concerns around fire safety to Wexford County Council in light of one unauthorised mobile home in the holiday park, which was located in close proximity to his boundary wall. In a response from a Senior Staff Officer with Wexford County Council’s Planning Enforcement Department in July 2013, Mr Norton was informed that while the mobile home was unauthorised, it was in place for longer than seven years and therefore, was not enforceable. 

Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, any legal action taken by the planning authority against unauthorised development, with the exception of quarrying operations and peat extraction, must start within seven years of the breach of planning law taking place.

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In June 2017, Eric’s fears were realised when a fire broke out in the mobile home, causing €23,000 in damage to his own house. He was not in the house at the time.

Despite this fire, another mobile home was parked in the same location in the years that followed.

In August 2020, Eric wrote to both the Wexford Fire Prevention Officer and Wexford County Council’s Planning Department outlining his concerns about the fire safety hazard posed by this new mobile. A response from a Staff Officer in Wexford County Council’s Planning Enforcement Department in November 2020 informed him that a warning letter had been issued to owner of the mobile home, which would allow him four weeks to make a submission in writing regarding the development.

In 2020, the site was inspected by the fire officer and remedial work was recommended to the owner to address fire safety issues, according to further correspondence from a Senior Staff Officer with the Planning Enforcement Section. The enforcement case was to be reviewed in conjunction with the outcome of the remedial work. A 2021 letter stated that a schedule of works was issued and the assigned officers continue to work with the owner to address outstanding matters.

However, in March 2022, Eric received a letter from a Senior Staff Officer with the Planning Enforcement Section stating: “Following a review, it was noted that there is no further role for planning enforcement as the mobile home was previously on site. Accordingly, this planning enforcement case has been closed.” The mobile home remains in situ.

On receiving this letter, Eric has expressed his frustration at the lack of action taken to enforce planning regulations and ensure his own safety.

"I shouldn’t have to fight to feel safe in my own home,” said Eric. “I have no problem with the mobile home. I just want him to move it away from the wall so I’m not in danger. I got a row of cavity blocks to put on top of the wall because it destroyed everything. It blew the windows out, it blew the gutters out.”

"There has been a lot of fires around the Ardamine area. I’m worried that whoever is doing it will do it again and this time, I won’t be as lucky."

The location of the mobile home also is an issue of privacy, said Eric, who said he cannot sit out in his garden and have a conversation due to the proximity of those staying in it.

For Eric, his situation is part of a wider problem with the planning system in Ireland.

“We’ve got a problem with the planning system here. It’s not proper planning,” he said. "A lot of projects are just done and then people apply for retention. That’s not the way the planning system is supposed to work. 

"There is just so much around planning that is completely not normal. That’s what I am hoping to bring light to.”

When contacted about the case, Senior Executive Officer in the Wexford County Council Planning Department, Tom Banville confirmed that the planning enforcement file had been closed.

"The file has been closed. There was no role for planning enforcement because a mobile had been there for a previous number of years,” he said. “The building was there previously so you are permitted to put in another building in its place.”

Mr Banville did not have information on the ‘schedule of works' issued in 2021 but said that that the Fire Officer did not find any issue with the location of the mobile home.

"From a fire perspective, a one-metre distance between the buildings is deemed acceptable.”

Thomas O’Loughlin was contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of going to print.


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