A small primary school in Sandymount in Dublin 4 will find itself before the courts in the new year in its efforts to stop the development of more than 100 apartments overlooking its school grounds.
St Matthew’s National School is taking judicial review proceedings against An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant permission for 112 apartments in blocks up to six storeys tall which will overlook the schoolyard and classrooms.
The board in September granted planning permission to Maxol Property Ltd for the build-to-rent complex under the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) system, which is due to be discontinued in early 2022.
While judicial review proceedings against SHD decisions are frequently taken by residents groups, it is extremely rare for a school to take legal action in relation to a housing development.
However, in this instance the school board felt compelled to act, principal Naomi Rousseau explained.
“I don’t think any of us want to be in this position, we would prefer to be doing our own jobs, but feel we have to use our small voice to protect our pupils. We feel we’ve been left with no option.”
The apartments would come within half a metre of the boundary wall of the school, with balconies positioned directly over the playground and some classrooms, she said.
“We are not anti-development, we would be supportive of residential development on this site, but not at the density and scale of what’s being proposed where every square inch is being squeezed out of the site and the windows of the apartments will have a clear unobscured view of the yard and classrooms.”
Jonathan Bell, who has two children at the school, one of whom has special needs, said there were “safeguarding” concerns surrounding the development.
“This brings up child safeguarding and safety worries with so many windows looking over the school. There is also the issue of the construction disruption that could go on for two years and would be especially tough for children with special needs.”
Hannah Goulden, the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator, said of the 230 pupils, about 35 had special needs, and could be particularly affected by the development.
“We would have a number of children with sensory difficulties who would have difficulty with noise, and if they have to wear noise blockers it will have an impact on their learning and academic progress. Our sensory room is the closest to the boundary wall, and because the school is small we don’t really have anywhere else to locate it.”
Tara Clarke, who has been sending her children to the school for the past 23 years, said there were a significant number of children in the school with respiratory difficulties. “I don’t see how it will be possible to keep children with medical conditions safe during all this. I am from the local community and I have adult children who would be looking to get on the property ladder, but this is the wrong place for this development.”
A decade ago the site was earmarked for a McDonald's "drive-thru" restaurant, but Maxol was refused permission for the development by both Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála.
Susan Connolly, who has had five children in the school, said there had long been an acceptance among parents and the school that the site would be developed. “Everyone understands that something will be built here, but it’s the scale, the enormous structure we’re concerned about.”
The school will be fundraising to pay for the legal action and plans to set up a GoFundMe page for online donations. Ms Rousseau said while the school had a Sandymount address, pupils came from a mix of income backgrounds.
"The school was originally in Irishtown and we would have children from Irishtown, Ringsend and Sandymount. Yes, there are some privileged children here, but not the majority, it is very mixed. There are far better ways the school's resources could be spent, but we feel we have no choice."
Maxol Ltd did not respond to requests for comment. An Bord Pleanála does not comment on ongoing cases.