IRELAND's leading environmental group is to appeal this week against the planning permission obtained by Mary McAleese for a holiday home in Roscommon.
Among the arguments made by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), who blocked the construction of a £12.5m golf course to protect a rare snail, is that the president's house could adversely affect the feeding habits of a flock of rare Greenland white-fronted geese on the Shannon.
The FIE said yesterday that the main basis of the appeal to Bord Pleanala will be that a one-storey ruin on the shores of Lough Eidin is to be replaced by a two-storey pastiche Georgian house, out of character with the surroundings.
The president, whose seven-year term ends in 2004, plans a 2,200 sq ft farmhouse-style home, with outbuildings and a jetty, about three miles northwest of Carrick-on-Shannon in a remote area. The house is just under the maximum limit to qualify for a tax break under a rural regeneration scheme.
Last week Roscommon county council granted planning permission for the dwelling but attached conditions. The FIE wants these strengthened.
The council has stipulated that a proposed jetty should only have the capacity for one boat, but FIE wants the size of that boat to be limited.
"They shouldn't be able to bring in a big cruiser and park it there because it would not be in keeping with the rural and unspoilt nature of the area," said the group's spokesman.
"A prominent house on the lakeside like this will draw more people in. At the moment this is a backwater, and extremely unspoilt, but that could change.
"We are not opposed in principle to something being built in this location but we want to see it done responsibly towards the natural environment."
The group is also unhappy that Dr Martin McAleese, the president's husband, in whose name the planning application was lodged, did not hire an architect to design the house.
Roscommon county council requires that the house must first be occupied by the McAleese family - a condition that FIE also wants strengthened.
The green group, which has challenged the £275m regeneration of Ballymun, the construction of the Kildare bypass (due to another rare snail) and a wind farm on the Aran Islands, admits it has never challenged an individual dwelling before.
A spokesman for the group of 14 environmentalists said it was vigorously opposed to the rural tax incentive scheme, which allows owner-occupiers to write off up to half the building costs of a new house.
"There are no safeguards in this scheme and we want to illustrate that," he said.
"We have a member in this area who drew our attention to President McAleese's house, and we thought it was a perfect example of what is going on."
The group wants Duchas to carry out a study on the white-fronted geese which may use the area as a feeding ground.
"There is a danger that this development could disperse the flock, which is not very well known and not heavily studied," said the FIE spokesman.
The group said seven applications for dwellings in the area have been submitted, which would put undue pressure on local roads.
President McAleese already owns a cottage in the area, her father's family home, but a spokesman for the president has said the new house will be "a permanent home for the future".
It has been designed in the style of a house belonging to the president's aunt in Northern Ireland, and will have five bedrooms, including one with wheelchair access.
In the plans, there is a full-length living room on one side of an entrance hall, and french windows leading to a patio.
A central grand staircase leads to four bedrooms and a bathroom. The outhouses will include garages for two cars as well as storage and utility space. Excavations will be needed to level the ground on the site, which measures almost five acres. The buildings will be some distance from a public road and will only be visible from the lake, which is already popular with cruisers.
Friends of the Irish Environment, which is based in Co Cork and led by Tony Lowes, who is originally from New York, insists that it has been a force for good by preventing development from taking an even heavier toll in the 1990s.
"We have slowed down the relentless destruction of the Celtic tiger," said the spokesman.
NOTE ON THIS ARTICLE
While FIE appreciates that the demands of the - Media require personalization of all issues, we would like to correct two basic errors in this Sunday Times story.
(1) FIE is not a group. It is not a company. It is not a registrered charity. It is a network.
(2) FIE does not have a leader and it does not believe it should acknowledge founders with special positions. In an effort to raise issues without personalities, all FIE publicity is credited only to a spokesman.
The Sunday Times chose not to respect our position, which we have made clear to them on a number of occasions. Now read on.
The President, Mrs McAleese, is facing a Bord Pleanála appeal by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) over her plans to build a lakeshore home in Co Roscommon.
FIE has lodged its appeal against Roscommon County Council's decision to grant permission to Dr Martin McAleese for a two-storey house and associated outbuildings, jetty and sewerage plant at Kilmacarrill, overlooking Lough Eidin.
It claims the decision contravenes the Roscommon county plan, which aims to control the spread of single houses in scenic rural areas, and says the proposed house "would create an obtrusive element in an unspoiled landscape and seriously injure the visual amenities of the area".
FIE says the conditions attached to the decision "are inadequate to ensure the level of protection required beside a proposed Natural Heritage Area" and the site map as submitted does not show access to neighbouring lands which are also under development pressure.
According to the county plan, which dates from 1993, the Shannon, its lakes and tributaries are "a major tourist resource" and it says "damaging, unsympathetic, or visually intrusive developments, such as sporadic housing, are to be particularly avoided in this area".
But FIE says the area is under pressure because of the availability of tax incentives for housing and other developments under the pilot Rural Renewal Scheme, which applies to Longford, Leitrim and large parts of Roscommon, Sligo and Cavan.
The proposed McAleese home, at 210 sq m (2,260 sq ft), is just below the maximum size to qualify for the tax incentives, which would permit 50 per cent of the capital cost to be written off against tax over 10 years. A spokeswoman for the President has said she may avail of this option.
According to FIE, which is coordinated from west Cork by environmental - Campaignser Mr Tony Lowes, the proposed house would "seriously conflict" with Roscommon County Council's objective to steer new housing developments into existing towns and villages.
Calling on An Bord Pleanála to refuse permission, FIE's submission by Tipperary-based Peter Sweetman and Associates says it would be "a tragedy" if the largely unspoiled shores of the Shannon were to be "lined with the holiday and retirement homes of the wealthy".
Its appeal also maintains that the decision in favour of the McAleese home runs "entirely against" a number of planning refusals in the area around Lough Eidin in recent years.
A condition requiring that the house "shall first be occupied by the applicant or by a member of his im- Mediate family" could be satisfied, in FIE's view, "by a single day's residence". It says any condition seeking to ensure permanent residency should be for a minimum of 10 years.
Noting that the McAleeses are "resident in another part of the State", FIE says it "does not believe that sustainable development supports anyone's right to a second home at the expense of our natural environment". The President's spokeswoman has said it is intended as a permanent home.
APRIL 2001: WE UNDERSTAND THIS APPLICATION HAS BEEN DEEMED WITHDRAWN BY AN BORD PLEANALA
An Bord Pleanala,
Irish Life Building,
Lower Abbey Street,
21 February, 2001
APPEAL AGAINST GRANT OF PLANNING PERMISSION
Planning Authority: Roscommon County Council
Reference Number: PD - 00 - 1368
Re: Application for single storey dwelling house, garage, entrance septic tank and percolation area
Location: Kilmacarrill, Cootehall, Co. Roscommon
Date of Permission: 25 January, 2001
We have been instructed by Friends of the Irish Environment to appeal the decision of Roscommon County Council to give consent for this development.
The site of the proposed dwelling is on the shores of Lough Drumharlow [Lough Eiden], a proposed Natural Heritage Area [Site Code: 001643]. The grounds put forward on behalf of our clients relate closely to the recent decision by your Board. [PL 20. 121715] on an adjacent site.
The grounds are as follows:
The grant of permission is contrary to the policy as expressed in the Roscommon County Development Plan 1993. This prohibits developments proposals in the area of the Shannon where they would be detrimental to visual or environmental amenity. The site is located in such a remote area of high visual amenity.
The proximity of the area to the cruising centre of Carrick-on Shannon places a particular importance on the need to protect the high quality of the environmental as a gateway to river and the lake system to the north.
The occupancy and use of this development would be likely to result in significant disturbance to fauna, and particularly to migratory bird species in this part of the lake. It is an objective of the Development Plan to protect this area of ornithological and ecological importance, which importance is confirmed by its designation as a Natural Heritage Area.
Given the relatively poor ground conditions and the topography of the area, the proposal to dispose of the effluent to a septic tank and percolation area would constitute a potential pollution risk to the lake.
The Board has been consistent in refusing development close to Lough Drumharlow, including two in this townland. [PL 20.121715 and 20/5/69930]. There is very limited development close to the shores of the Lough, much of which is remote and inaccessible to the public. Development consent at this location would, therefore, form a precedent that would undermine the policies of the Roscommon Development Plan and the previous decisions by the Board.
An environmental organisation has claimed that the granting of permission by Roscommon County Council for President McAleese's proposed residence in Cootehall "is entirely against" the area's planning history.
By Paul Gunning, Roscomon Herald , 18 October, 2000
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) have claimed, in a submission to An Board Pleanala, the planning appeals board, that the development "would create a precedent for approval of a number of applications which are pending" along with encouraging "further applications and the sale of land for development all along a shore defended to date under the County Development Plan".
Other issues of contention raised include the construction of a new jetty, traffic access and threats posed to Greenland White-fronted Geese by the house and outbuildings, situated nearby Drumharlow Lake, .
The organisation also argue that the "use of uPVC for windows and mock Georgian doorways is offensive in such a rural location". The appeal claims that the existing cottage, which reportedly is due for demolition, "is an example of the style of traditional housing in this area as opposed to the Georgian pastiche proposed".
The appeal against the grant of planning permission for a two storey home and separate outbuildings, jetty, sewage treatment plant and percolation area at Kilmacarrill, Cootehall was lodged with An Bord Pleanala last week. It was lodged by Peter Sweetman & Associates, Borrisoleigh, County Tipperary on behalf of FIE. FIE is a network created by conservationists in Ireland in order to "monitor the full implementation of European environmental law and to work for changes in Irish planning laws. The organisation pursues concerns and cases in both the built and natural environment based on the principles of sustainable community development."
"The grant of permission is at variance with the planning history of the area. The development, as designed and located with substantial changes in ground levels, would create an obtrusive element in an unspoiled landscape and seriously injure the visual amenities of the area," FIE outlined.
It is also claimed that certain conditions drafted in the grant of planning are inadequate to ensure the level of protection required for an area beside a proposed Natural Heritage Area.
Asking the Board to examine, with some attention, the planning history of the im- Mediate area and the reasons given for refusals, FIE noted that other proposed applications along Lough Drumharlow were rejected on the grounds of causing serious visual impact.
"There are no examples of development consent being given along these shores. This grant of permission by Roscommon County Council is entirely against the planning history of the area and would create a precedent for approval of a number of applications which are pending, encourage further applications and the sale of land for development all along a shore defended to date under the Development Plan by the professional staff of Roscommon County Council," the organisation outlined.
Another objection cited is that Lough Drumharlow and its surroundings are important sites for a discrete flock of rare Greenland white-fronted geese. It would be premature to grant permission for infrastructure which would facilitate activities which could adversely affect the feeding habits of these white fronted geese, FIE contest.
Calling on the Board to ensure the proper planning and development of this nationally important region, FIE have described the development an "ill-conceived and damaging proposal".
Re: Availability of site location maps relating to planning applications to members of the public
We refer to the recent decision of An Bord Pleanala to refuse planning permission for a proposed dwelling on the shores of Lough Eiden, Co. Roscommon, a copy of which we enclose.
Our appeal was dismissed by the Board because our Inspector identified the wrong site.
The root cause of our Inspector's error was the fact that members of the public or of environmental organizations or their advisors are not permitted to obtain photocopies of the site location map supplied by the applicant as part of his application. It is difficult to accept that copyright reasons preclude this facility, as these maps do not contain architectural drawings and are in fact supplied by the Government's own Ordinance Survey Office.
It would clearly not be in the interest of orderly development if in fact we had been the sole appellants and the Board was unable to give the clear decision against this proposal which it did on foot of another appeal. Concerned members of the
public should be permitted to obtain photocopies of site location maps to enable them to check the exact location and spatial extent of the application on the ground in the interest of proper planning and development.
We would be grateful for your attention to this matter in the context of forthcoming Regulations under the Planning Act 2000.