Wheelchair access: ‘They were putting steps down the right of way’

Developers have blocked 150m sloping pathway used by Owen Stubbs in Foxrock

The family of a young wheelchair-user say he has been excluded from a right-of-way between his home and the main road because the local authority “doesn’t see him as a member of the public”.

Graham Stubbs says his son Owen (22) has used a 150m sloping right-of-way between the family home at Knocksinna Court in Foxrock and the N11 Dublin to Wexford road for "all his life".

The pathway, described by Mr Stubbs as a "dirt track which we kept clear", has recently been replaced by developer Richmond Homes with large steps that are inaccessible to wheelchair users.

The steps run along the boundary between Knocksinna Court and a 0.825 hectare site on which construction of 142 build-to-rent apartments, with 91 parking spaces, is nearing completion.

Knocksinna Court’s pathway provided a right-of-way between the N11 and Granville Road, which runs parallel to the N11. Though the path’s lower half towards Granville Road remains wheelchair accessible, the upper half to the N11 is not. Currently it is behind hoarding and inaccessible to everyone while construction continues.

The strategic housing development, which Mr Stubbs stresses he is not against, was granted permission by An Bord Pleanála in July 2019.

Among the conditions it set was that: “Prior to any works on site [there must be] written agreement outlining that members of the public will have free and unrestricted access at all times to the pedestrian and cycle link which connects Granville Road with the N11.”

‘Too steep’

Mr Stubbs says: “We read that and thought, ‘That’s alright. They can’t have steps’. We assumed ‘members of the public’ included people with disabilities.”

However, he said about a year into the build “we noticed they were putting steps down the right of way”. Though Richmond Homes offered solutions such as a fob giving Owen access to the development and its lifts and exits to the N11, “that wasn’t satisfactory”, Mr Stubbs says.

“What about other wheelchair-users? That was a public right of way and should be open to all members of the public.”

Fergus Farrell, chief commercial officer with Richmond Homes, said the gradient between the N11 and Knocksinna Court was “too steep” for a wheelchair ramp.

While regulations state a ramp must be no steeper than 1:12, meaning that for every 1cm rise the ramp should extend 12cm, he said the gradient in this case is “about 1:9”.

“The only way we could reduce the gradient would be to build the ramp in a zig-zag, extending the length of it,” he said, adding that this would eat into the rest of the site and reduce space for apartments. It was a requirement, he said, that they achieve the current density of 167 units per hectare.

Site density

A Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown planning report on the original application noted 167 units per hectare was “high relative to sites” locally and exceeded the minimum 50 units encouraged in the council’s sustainable communities strategy 2016-2022. The council was “satisfied the subject site” was suited to accommodating a higher density, but it did not require the higher density.

Mr Stubbs said: "We were genuinely relying on the [An Bord Pleanála] condition. We could take a judicial review but that would mean going into the High Court. We could lose and then be on the hook for our costs and theirs."

Though he is aggrieved with Richmond Homes, he said he was “really annoyed” with the council.

“I just cannot understand how Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has allowed a developer take away a public right of way from someone who has used it all their life, on the altar of profit. It’s really sad.”

Mr Farrell "completely rejects" the allegation of profit being put before disabled people like Owen, saying the company has "gone out of [its] way to work with [Mr Stubbs]".

An Bord Pleanála said: “The phrase ‘members of the public’ is a generic, non-discriminatory phrase used to convey a concept of general public access. How it is subsequently interpreted, in terms of compliance with planning conditions, is a matter for the relevant local planning authority.”

A spokeswoman for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said it “deemed the applicant’s compliance submission to be compliant with the intent of the condition.

“The pedestrian link at this location is in the ownership of the developer and they are in compliance with their approved planning permission.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

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