Portwest refused permission for new HQ in Westport
Planning board overturns council decision to grant for HQ accommodating up to 150 staff
Harry Hughes, chief executive of Mayo-based Portwest. Photograph: Richie Stokes
The board rejected the recommendation of its own inspector to approve the planning application by Portwest and ruled that the site at Roman Island was in an area at risk of flooding.
The planning board said the development site and adjoining road network would remain vulnerable to flooding, with consequent adverse effects on future occupants and visitors to the premises.
The company, which has operated in Westport since 1904, had proposed a four-storey building on the site to replace existing offices in the Industrial Development Authority’s technology and business park.
Portwest said its current offices were “chronically overcrowded” and it has had to use several portacabins to accommodate its expanding workforce.
Manufacturing of its products in Westport is now largely confined to niche prototypes as most production has been moved to the Far East.
Portwest claimed its growth and expansion had placed considerable pressure on facilities at its head office which is no longer capable of further physical expansion.
“No suitable and available premises or sites on zoned lands which permitted large scale office use were identified in the Westport area,” said the company.
It claimed the proposed location of its new headquarters was “the only suitable, available and viable site notwithstanding the zoning status”.
Portwest, which is owned by the Hughes family, employs 3,000 people worldwide including 90 in Westport and had turnover of about €160 million in 2017.
The family also owns Hotel Westport, one of the town’s largest hotels, and in 2016 bought Westport House, one of its main tourist attractions. Other members of the family run the Carraig Donn giftware chain of stores.
Mayo County Council said the refusal was “an unfortunate outcome after a long and expensive process”.
The council’s decision to grant planning permission for the project had been appealed by a number of parties including a local heritage group, Westport Civic Trust which argued that the proposed site should be maintained for “marine-related tourism and recreation”.
In a submission Fáilte Ireland called for a proposed material contravention of the Westport development plan required to facilitate the new Portwest headquarters to be rejected as it believed the development, while welcome, was in the wrong location.