23 Dec 2008

When I first read about Liam Campion Developments being brought to court by Tipperary South County Council for breach of planning conditions on his tourist resort near the Rock of Cashel, I – like all the nutterboxes on the web boards – thought: ‘deal breakin, money grabbin, heritage destroyin SOB – pull that man’s buildings down!’

Why so? Because at the time when the whole thing blew up, the press reported the Council’s propaganda unchecked. Anyone reading the dailies in mid 2007 would have been forgiven for thinking that Campion was building the fifty two holiday rental dwellings he had received approval for (as part of a larger hotel scheme) with a view to selling them off as private residences. In other words, that in an increasingly tourism unfriendly environment, he was pulling a fast one.

But when I checked out what happened between the disputing parties in the District Court last week I discovered, to my shock, that the court had found in Campion’s favour. This is what shocked me: when the story first emerged, how had I (me, who can’t hear a word that merely rhymes with ‘planner’ without picturing some council official with his limbs tied by chords to horses galloping in opposite directions) not first presumed that a) in stories about planning, the Council is almost always 100% wrong and that b) in stories about planning, the press is almost always 100% wrong? WHAT WAS I THINKING ABOUT!

This is what was reported: Campion Developments lodged their planning application for fifty two rental houses and mid sized hotel with conference centre, etc., in 2001. The proposal caused controversy – for many, it was located uncomfortably and insensitively close to the Rock of Cashel/Cormac’s Chapel complex. Anyway, for better or for worse, planning approval was granted in 2004. In 2007, work was brought to a halt by the Council whose officials, in various newspaper pieces, were categoric in their assertions that Campion was a lawbreaker for changing the design of his scheme for his own gain without consulting anyone and a cad to boot. With the support of every right thinking person in the country, Tipp South hauled Campion into court.

But, during the eight day hearing, a very different version of events began to take shape. What happened, apparently, was that in July 2006 the developers, who were already on site, met with the Council to approve modifications to the layout of their development so that new roads serving the ‘fifty two house’ element could, for fire truck access reasons, be widened to 6m and, furthermore, that turning hammerheads be made a bit more generous. The folks from the Council told the court that work was halted because there had been no such agreements. The developer insisted to the contrary, pointing out that not only had council planners kept minutes of the meeting, they had also accepted drawings showing the various revisions to be inserted into the planning file. The planners countered that no such drawings existed. The judge temporarily adjourned the hearing to give the planners an opportunity to check their files again…

… and, guess what? The drawings and meeting notes were found. The judge threw the book at the Council and told them to pick up the tab for the half million in legal fees. (It will end up costing them more: Campion is about to sue them for €10 million in losses.)

South Tipperary planning watchers are now, inevitably, engaged in unhealthy speculation. Of the printable intrigues being explored, the most benign (but least discussed) suggests the whole thing happened because the Council suffered a ‘heritage’ related change of heart and began to have serious regrets about granting planning approval in the first place: in other words, the abuse of procedures was necessary to ensure that the right thing happened vis-a-vis the Rock of Cashel.

Other folks are more taken with the possibilities of a ‘nuns' site’ connection. Remember that other Cashel planning story to make it into the papers in the past year or two? The one where some nuns left a piece of land in the centre of town to the people, provided it was used in perpetuity as a public amenity? But which the Council decided to rezone to allow (ultimately, hotel) development to take place? Well, some folks say that in order for the Council-preferred nuns' site hotel to succeed, Campion’s venture had to be knocked on the head.

Then there’s the usual stuff about personal vendettas, political biases, business rivalries and wheel greasing malfunctions, not to mention the old conspiracy theory that Councils keep private ‘shadow’ planning files in addition to the one the public get to see.       

Even if we presume the best case scenario, i.e. that the Council were motivated to protect the Rock of Cashel site, what they’re doing is still wrong. Because what starts out as a serious minded planner setting out to do the right thing, degenerates quickly into something more tawdry: within the local authority system, malignant motives quickly attach themselves to benign ones, and one little corruption leads to another. Much as I’d like to see the Rock and Cormac’s Chapel unintruded upon in any way, I’d far rather live with integrity.  

Tuesday, 23 December 2008 14:43:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I have seen this development, the hugh shale like rock mound where no planting will ever grow or ever survive upon it tries to hide it from the sensitivity of our eyes. It screams volumes about this hidious 'design' that should never have seen the light of day.

Was this issue refered to an Bord Pleanala at some stage and what if any was the outcome?

Terry Maguire
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