The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a local residents’ group’s appeal against the High Court’s decision to uphold planning permission for a €15 million visitor centre at Dublin’s Hell Fire club.
The Hellfire Massy Residents Association (HMRA) have challenged a decision by An Bord Pleanála allowing South Dublin County Council to develop a visitor centre in the Dublin mountains at the Massy’s Wood estate and Montpelier Hill.
The site includes the Hell Fire club, a national monument built around 1725.
The project is being developed in co-operation with Coillte and the Dublin Mountains Partnership.
In High Court judicial review proceedings against the board and the State the HMRA claimed the development will function as a visitor’s hub for the Dublin and Wicklow mountains and will alter the type, intensity, mix and balance of visitors to Montpelier Hill, Natura 2000 sites and Massy’s Wood.
It claimed this effect had not been assessed and the board failed to consider adequately or at all the impacts on, inter alia, natural habitats, bats and otters.
Last year in his judgement Mr Justice Richard Humphreys dismissed the resident’s challenge.
He said the applicant had failed to establish the grant of permission was invalid.
His reasons included the HMRA had failed to establish the figures for future visitor numbers were so flawed the board acted unlawfully in taking them into account.
He dismissed claims of non-compliance with section 175 of the Planning and Development Act, which requires further information relating to a planning application by a local authority be published via newspaper notice.
Permission to appeal his decision to the Court of Appeal was also refused.
The judge also referred important issues of EU law which arose in the case to the Court of Justice of the EU for determination.
The issues include whether Irish regulations of 2011 implementing the European Birds and Habitats Directives are invalid by reference to EU law in relation to projects which may be subject to a derogation application after they have secured a planning consent.
The HMRA applied to the Supreme Court for a ‘leapfrog appeal’, meaning their appeal would skip the Court of Appeal and be heard directly by the country’s highest court.
In its determination the Supreme Court panel comprised of the Chief Justice Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley and Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe granted the group permission to bring its appeal.
The Court said that it was satisfied that a matter of general public importance does arise, as to the dismissal of an application for judicial review of an individual decision to grant planning permission, pending the determination of a challenge to the validity of certain legislative provisions which arguably affect or impact upon that decision.
This issue may arise in a number of other cases, and it is in the public interest to obtain further clarity, the court said.
The court added that it was also satisfied that the threshold of exceptional circumstances to allow the appeal be heard directly by the Supreme Court had been met.
The board had argued that the the residents had failed to raise any point of public importance.