The chief executive of a major New York construction company has hit out at the influence of holiday homeowners in the planning process in rural Ireland, saying environmental objectors are getting “to dictate” the needs of communities.
There is growing anger in south Kerry that plans for a revamp of the landmark Cable O'Leary's bar and hotel, the only facility in the village overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay, have been blocked after a number of objections, primarily from some of the roughly 300 holiday homeowners in the area.
Amid continuing decline in population, just 50 houses are now occupied on a permanent basis in what is the heart of the south Kerry Gaeltacht.
A packed meeting in Ballinskelligs at the weekend called on Kerry TDs to table a private members’ bill to ensure that economic and social needs of communities are factored into future planning decisions.
Planning was focused only on architectural and environmental issues, local people complained at the meeting.
The transatlantic era Cable O’Leary’s , the only bar or restaurant in the village will now close entirely, Kevin O’Sullivan, the president and chief executive of Tower Holdings, said in a letter read to the meeting.
Mr O’Sullivan said the building was unsafe and subsiding and negotiations aimed at bringing on board a hotel operator had now fallen through. The application for redeveloping the building had been made by OS Properties, part of the Tower Holdings group which has offices in New York and Cork.
As a native Kerryman “this development was always more than a business investment”, he said, expressing profound disappointment at the decision. His 90-year-old mother and relatives were in the audience.
The character of the old cable station would have been incorporated into the design and the size was reduced in line with a request by Kerry County Council. The additional studies and demands had cost the company more than €225,000, Mr O'Sullivan revealed.
“With the amount of local support and backing this development has received, it is very unfortunate that people who own vacation properties in the area, whose livelihood is not impacted by, nor dependent on the local economy, and who do not contribute to its growth at the same scale as the permanent residents get to dictate what the true local community needs and deserves,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
He shared the local community’s “disappointment over remote parties preserving their interest at the detriment of the immediate local community” .
The old building was subsiding and created safety and fire hazards and “regretfully Cable O’Leary’s will be forced to close its doors”, he added.
Mr O’Sullivan’s property interests include the Port of Cork site which he bought for a reported €5 million with his brother, Donal, in 2017 and is developing under plans for a €250 million office and hotel complex.
Kerry County Council had given the go-ahead in July to demolish the 12-bedroom Cable O’Leary’s and replace it with a three-storey complex with 48 bedrooms, a function room and gym, restaurant and bar, car and bus park.
However, there were up to a dozen submissions, all but one objecting, and the decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
Out of character
The plans were deemed excessive and out of character with the area by the planning board, in line with the planning inspector and the appeals from parties with permanent addresses in Cork and Kenmare who feared the advent of mass tourism, traffic disturbance and interference with walking and cycling activities and the status of the area as an international dark sky reserve.
The local development and community group Coiste Forbartha na Sceilge supported the plan, however.
“We desperately need this project,” Des Cronin, a spokesman for the group said.
There were about 300 holiday homes in the area, many let on a short-term basis, but there was no accommodation for last-minute visitors who wanted to stay overnight and avoid driving to Cahersiveen or Waterville, he added.
The Coiste said 95 per cent of observations during the planning process involved holiday homeowners or people retired to the area.
Mr Cronin said that since the refusal, large numbers of holiday homeowners had expressed their dismay and a number attended the meeting at the weekend in a show of support.
Labour party TD Alan Kelly had expressed his dismay and disgust that the project had been rejected and that he, as a holiday homeowner in the immediate vicinity of the hotel site, would welcome its development, Mr Cronin added.
After a call by local Fianna Fáil councillor Norma Moriarty, Kerry TDs are being asked to put down a private members' bill to change planning legislation to prioritise local concerns.