Judge overturns approval for 200 home Galway development

The 197-unit residential development had gone through State’s fast-track planning scheme

The High Court has overturned An Bord Pleanála's "fast track" strategic housing approval for a 197-residential unit development in Bearna, Co Galway.

Mr Justice Garrett Simons said the board acted outside its powers when granting permission for the development to Burkeway Homes on an 18-acre site 6.5km from Galway city centre.

The board’s decision was challenged by Gabriel McGoldrick and Heather Hill Management Company, managers of the adjoining Heather Hill residential development.

Among various claims, they argued the board did not properly comply with the County Development Plan.


In his judgment, Mr Justice Simons found the development would involve two material contraventions of the development plan.

The first was that it would breach the population allocation for Bearna set out in the core strategy and settlement hierarchy as recently affirmed by a variation to the plan in July 2018.

Bearna has a population of nearly 2,000 and the strategy envisages an increase of 420 by 2021, he noted.

The second contravention was that the development plan requires a “justification test” for development works in an area of the site identified as being at risk of flooding.

That test was not done and the board erred in law in purporting to defer the completion of a site specific flood risk assessment, he said.

A conflict between two objectives of a development plan does not allow a decision maker to contravene one of the objectives and to dismiss that contravention as immaterial, the judge said.

The issue of conflicting objectives is provided for in the 2016 Residential Tenancies and Planning and Development (Housing) Act under which “strategic housing development” applications such as these are made directly to the board.

Considerations for contravention

An Bord Pleanála is authorised to grant permission in contravention of a plan where there are conflicting objectives but it must first consider whether the criteria under the 2016 Act have been met, he said.

It must also indicate in its decision the “main reasons and considerations” for contravening the plan.

In this case, the board mistakenly concluded the proposed development did not involve a material contravention and as a consequence did not address its mind to these statutory requirements, he said.

“These legal errors vitiate the decision to grant planning permission.”

The judge also found the board failed to carry out a proper screening exercise for the EU Habitats Directive.

The board erred in relying on measures intended to avoid/reduce potential harmful effects of the proposed development on two European sites located in Galway Bay, he said.

He set aside the decision and adjourned the matter to next month to hear arguments whether the matter should be sent back for reconsideration by the board and on costs issues.