Traveller families challenge removal of three houses from accommodation plan

Council had promised to build houses for families living in substandard mobile homes

 

Three Traveller families living in “substandard” mobile homes have taken a legal challenge after three houses intended for them were removed from Wicklow County Council’s Traveller Accommodation Programme.

The High Court case is being taken by the Connors families, who reside at the Ballinteskin halting site in Co Wicklow.

They say they have been living in mobile homes which have outlived their lifespan and claim the council had agreed to build them three houses on a nearby vacant site.

The proposed houses were excluded from the council’s Traveller Accommodation Programme 2019-2024, adopted by the elected members last September, they claim.

The exclusion, without any prior notice to them, of the proposal to build three Traveller-specific houses near the halting site was unlawful, they claim.

The proposal was included in the previous five-year 2014-2019 Traveller Accommodation Programme, they claim.

On Monday, the families, represented by Eamon Galligan SC, with Proinsias Ó Maolchalain BL, instructed by the Free Legal Advice Centres, sought to have the council’s decision judicially reviewed.

Flooding

Counsel said the three families, including their children, are living in substandard accommodation prone to flooding and lacking basic amenities, including proper heating.

The Council has said in separate, but related, proceedings currently before the courts that its decision concerning the Traveller accommodation plan is based on legal advice received regarding a 1996 agreement it made with a resident’s association.

That agreement provided that the council would not expand the halting site at Ballinteskin, nor develop another one within the vicinity of a nearby Ballinteskin residential caravan park.

The validity and effect of that 1996 agreement is at issue in the actions by the three families and the other related proceedings.

Counsel said the applicants say the local authority is not constrained in its duties as a housing authority by the 1996 agreement.

The proposed three houses would not constitute an expansion of the existing halting site, he said.

Quashing

In their proceedings against the council, the families seek various orders including quashing the council’s decision to exclude the proposed development from the plan.

The council, Mr Galligan said, should not have taken the 1996 agreement into consideration when adopting the 2019-2024 Traveller Accommodation Programme.

The council’s decision to exclude the three houses was in breach of fair procedures and is invalid and of no legal effect, it is claimed.

It is also claimed it breaches a 2018 circular issued by the Minister for Housing that requires all Traveller accommodation programmes to be prepared in a consultative manner.

The families further claim breach of their legitimate expectations to be provided with group housing on lands near Ballinteskin Halting Site.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan granted permission, on an ex-parte basis, to bring the actions and returned the matter to January.