Trust linked to Church of Scientology brings action to quash planning decision

Board decided last year that change of use was not exempt development

Protest against the Church of Scientology development in Ballivor, Co Meath, last year:  Claire O’Mara, Cllr Noel French, Karen Traynor, Vivienne Lyons, Sue Davis and Pamela O’Riordan. Photograph: Seamus Farrelly

Protest against the Church of Scientology development in Ballivor, Co Meath, last year: Claire O’Mara, Cllr Noel French, Karen Traynor, Vivienne Lyons, Sue Davis and Pamela O’Riordan. Photograph: Seamus Farrelly

 

A High Court challenge has been brought over a decision by An Bord Pleanála concerning a proposed €9 million drug rehabilitation centre linked to the Church of Scientology.

The board decided last November that a change of use from a permitted nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation facility is not exempt development.

Planning permission was granted in 2014 for a nursing home at the site of the former old National School in Ballivor, Co Meath, but the nursing home was not built.

The site was acquired in 2016 by Narconon Trust, registered in Sussex, England, which is linked to the Church of Scientology, and supports drug rehabilitation charities as part of its mission.

The trust was founded by Massimo Angius, a trustee and director of the Church of Scientology in England for more than 20 years, and plans to open a residential drug rehabilitation facility on the site in the coming months.

The trust, which provides drug prevention, education, and residential rehab programmes at approximately 40 facilities worldwide, has already spent €9 million on purchasing and constructing the facility.

It bought the site after it secured a declaration from Meath County Council in 2016 that the proposed change of use from a nursing home to residential drug rehabilitation facility is exempted development and a fresh planning application was not required to be made.

In February 2018, Ballivor Community Group and the Council’s Trim Municipal District sought various declarations from the council concerning whether the proposed facility is exempted development.

The council referred the matter to An Bord Pleanála, which last November held the change of use of the permitted nursing home to the residential drug rehabilitation facility is not exempt development.

As a result, the trust has brought proceedings against An Bord Pleanála aimed at quashing its decision.

Jarath Fitzsimons SC, for the trust, said the decision was “flawed” and the referrals to the board amounted to an impermissible collateral challenge on the council’s decision in 2016.

The board erred in law by concluding it had to determine the referral made by the council, he said. It was open to the board to dismiss the referral as the same question has been answered by the council in 2016 and there had been no change in the factual or planning circumstances that would warrant a new decision by the board, he submitted.

An Bord Pleanála had, in its impugned decision, also taken into account irrelevant considerations, overlooked and misunderstood relevant considerations, and acted unreasonably, he argued.

Counsel also sought a stay on the board’s decision because of concerns enforcement proceedings could be brought against the trust.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan granted counsel’s ex parte (one side only represented) application on Monday for leave to bring judicial review proceedings against the board, with Meath Co Council, the Ballivor Community Group, and Trim Municipal District as notice parties.

The judge also put a stay, pending further order, on the board’s decision and returned the matter to March.