Have you seen Peter? – An investigation into the planning system in Kerry

Something we’ve heard a number of times here in Radio Kerry in relation to planning applications is that some objections and appeals come from parties who purport to be someone else.  

This issue was mentioned in particular after planning permission was granted for a South Kerry hotel, a decision which was appealed – successfully – to An Bord Pleanála.  

So, in July, we decided to look into the planning process around this proposed redevelopment of Cable O’Leary’s in Ballinskelligs, in an effort to see if we could verify the identities of the parties involved.  

Instead of trying to prove every submission, objection or appeal to be true, Radio Kerry’s Eamonn Hickson set out to show just one was false.

Here’s the background to the planning story.

 

Timeline of events

1 – June – 2017

Kerry County Council receives an application to redevelop the existing Cable O’Leary’s hotel site in Ballinskelligs.

The proposed development included the demolition of the existing hotel and the construction of a new 45-bedroom and three suite hotel, including a bar, restaurant, gym and other hotel amenities. There was also a plan to build a new car and bus park and all ancillary works.

Malachy Walsh and Partners, on behalf of OS Properties LLC, submitted the application. The project team included the Malachy Walsh and Partners, who provided engineering and environmental input; Ismael Leyva, the architect; and OS Properties, the client.

The original planning application cost €19,877.10.

The planning application included:

  • Application fee
  • Application form
  • Drainage and flood risk assessment reports
  • Waste management plan
  • Road safety audit
  • Energy sustainability statement
  • Conservation assessment report
  • Copies of planning drawings
  • Newspaper notice
  • Archaeological impact assessment report
13 – June – 2017

KCC notifies relevant state bodies, as per regulations, including the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; An Taisce and Inland Fisheries Ireland.

14 – June – 2017

The first submission in support of the project is received by KCC from Coiste Forbartha na Sceilge, who say the proposed development would be a much-needed addition to Ballinskelligs. They say the rural area is disadvantaged and is dependent on tourism.

21 – June – 2017

The first objection to the development is received by KCC from John and Lorna Gleeson. They say the proposal is excessive and they are concerned it will threaten the coastline and cause structural damage to their property, which is next door. They stressed they would welcome a redevelopment, but on a smaller scale.

Over the next few weeks in June and July, a number of submissions are received by KCC, some supporting, some objecting.

25 – July – 2017

KCC requests more information from the applicant.

I understand at this juncture there was a slowdown in the correspondence between the applicant and Kerry County Council?

January 2018

Engineering firm Malachy Walsh & Partners asks for an extension of time; KCC grants the request.

27 – April – 2018 – nearly 11 months after first application

Malachy Walsh & Partners submit a full set of revised architectural and engineering drawings following revisions to size and scale of the project.

May 2018

Revised newspaper notice published and KCC notifies everyone who submitted in relation to the original plans that the applicant has submitted redesigned drawings and plans.

23 – May – 2018

KCC receives an application from a man, who calls himself Peter O’Sullivan, with an address at The Lodges, Cork Road, Kenmare, Co Kerry. The letter is signed. This is his first submission, nearly one year after the original application was sent in. However, it relates to the revised drawings and plans.

His objection was as follows:

planning-pic1

June 2018

KCC receive submissions and objections from a number of parties, most of whom submitted a year earlier.

13 – June – 2018

KCC sends an acknowledgment letter to Peter O’Sullivan, stating they received his submission on 23rd May.

After all the submissions – positive and negative – were received, Kerry County Council had to decide whether or not to grant permission. What did they decide?

26 – June – 2018

KCC grants permission for the development at Cable O’Leary’s, Ballinskelligs, subject to 16 conditions.

It notes, however, that until a Grant of Permission form is issued, the development is not yet authorised.

KCC sends a letter to all those who made submissions, including Peter O’Sullivan, telling them that permission has been granted.

The document states that an appeal may be made to ABP within four weeks.

That was Kerry County Council’s decision. So, the case was out of their hands so to speak. Anyone who wants to appeal must now contact An Bord Pleanála within the stated time. How many appeals were received by An Bord Pleanala – and who sent them in?

23 – July – 2018

Peter O’Sullivan hand delivers his appeal to Kerry County Council’s decision to An Bord Pleanála. At 11 minutes past one in the afternoon, he hands in his appeal to the office on Marlborough Street, Dublin.

He pays the €220 fee by card.

The grounds of his appeal are categorised under the following headings:

  • Visual impact & Architectural expression
  • Scale
  • Waste water
  • Ecology/Environmental sensitivity
  • Built heritage

He concludes that while supporting the principle of a vibrant, mixed-use building, the proposal is regrettable in that it contributes little to the surrounding area than its construction and operation economic benefits.

He also noted that the development description does not include a request for retention permission for the extension to the pub on the coast-side. He claimed this extension was built without planning permission, is an unauthorised development, and the local authority have erred in considering an application upon which there is an instance of unauthorised activity.

There is an email address attached to this appeal, which we’ll discuss shortly.

On the same day, Colm Gleeson and Linda Horgan submit a joint appeal to ABP via registered post. This constitutes the two appeals received by ABP in relation to KCC’s decision to grant planning permission to redevelop the property.

26 – November – 2018

ABP tells KCC it needs more time to come to a decision.

21 – January – 2019

Again, ABP tells KCC it needs more time to come to a decision.

22 – February – 2019

ABP inspector and board come to a decision – they refused the permission. Details of the appeals were as follows:

planning-pic2

Reasons and Considerations

The proposed development, by reason of its excessive height relative to surrounding buildings, its bulk and massing, its building line and its design, would be out of character with the pattern of development in the vicinity and would constitute a visually discordant feature that would materially affect the character of the settlement of Ballinskelligs. Furthermore, it is considered that the existing hotel structure has significant character within the Ballinskelligs area and that the proposed demolition of the structure has not ben justified. The proposed development would therefore seriously injure the amenities of the area and of property in the vicinity and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

So, that’s the timeline of the planning application, which includes submissions, appeals and objections to either Kerry County Council and/or An Bord Pleanála. A party who objected to the permission—and then appealed the council’s decision—caught the eye. Can you tell us why?

Yes, an objection purportedly from Peter O’Sullivan of the Lodges, Cork Road, Kenmare stood out.

Firstly, it was because of the address. When we checked out “The Lodges”, we found out that it was an estate. However, every house in that estate should have a house number. There was no number provided in any of the correspondence sent by or sent to Peter O’Sullivan. The Lodges estate is also in Killowen, not on any Cork Road.

We had never heard of someone’s address in Kenmare being described as being on the “Cork Road”. I asked a few local people, who stated the same thing.

We then googled the name to see if there was a mention of any Peter O’Sullivan in Kenmare—there was one. So, we called him and he informed me of his address, which was not the address which we’re discussing.

Next up, after looking through 550 pages of a Kerry County Council file, we found an email address attached to one of this Peter O’Sullivan’s forms.

We sent a number of emails to that address, asking to be put in contact with Peter O’Sullivan. We received no reply.

Did you ask people with local knowledge if they knew of Peter O’Sullivan?

We called local councillors Johnny Healy-Rae, Patrick Connor-Scarteen and Dan McCarthy who have spent all their lives around the area and would know most people in the town.

Starting with Councillor Healy-Rae, we asked him if he has heard of a man named Peter O’Sullivan who lives at The Lodges, Cork Road, Kenmare.

Next up, we contacted the postal services in the area and spoke with the manager of the Kilgarvan sorting station, specifically about the address provided.

He told us that, were someone to send a letter to that address, it’s unlikely that it would be delivered as it doesn’t specify a house in the Lodges estate—if that’s where it was intended to go. So, we sent a letter to Peter’s address, with a fictional survey about the planning system in Kerry.

The letter was returned to us here in Radio Kerry, saying “unknown at this address”.

Then, thinking that the address might be a typo, we sent another one to Peter O’Sullivan, The Lodges, Killowen, Kenmare on the 10th July.

It came back a few days later.

We then got in contact with the postman who delivers to the Lodges Estate in Kenmare – he said he can’t find that man – he’s asked original residents in the Lodges Estate and no one knows who Peter O’Sullivan is.

I understand you also sought details of this person on Check the Register.ie?

Yes, we checked all the addresses in the Kenmare area with the word “Lodge” in them. There were five. At these addresses, we checked for Peter O’Sullivan and did not find him.

So, we checked for Peter O’Sullivan in every electoral townland in Kenmare—no sign of him.

Maybe it meant to say Cork Road, Killarney – No, checked that as well.  No sign of this Peter O’Sullivan 

We also did an extensive search online in relation to the address.

Do the planning authorities, be it Kerry County Council or An Bord Pleanála, have any measures in place to verify the identity of someone who contributes to a planning application?

03 – July – 2019 – we emailed Kerry County Council with the following request.

I am hoping to find out if the Planning Department of Kerry County Council has any procedures in place for verifying the identities and bona fides of those who make a submission to the council in relation to a planning application, whether it be a supportive submission, observation, objection or appeal?

Does the planning department have a measure to ensure that those who make the appeal are who they purport to be? Or is it taken in good faith that all those who become part of the planning process are who they purport to be?

We received a response later that day:

Submissions/observations are taken in good faith as it would be impossible to verify identities. There is no statutory requirement in this regard. All planning documents are open files for the all the world to see so that can be a deterrent in itself in relation to mischievous or fake submissions, etc.

What does An Bord Pleanála say about invalid appeals?

This information is from their website.

When we receive a planning appeal, we check that the appeal meets the strict criteria set in law to be a valid appeal. Each year about 8% to 10% of appeals we receive are invalid. There are several reasons why an appeal can be invalid. Some of the main reasons are:

  • Fees
  • Received too late
  • Grounds or subject of the appeal
  • No acknowledgement letter from the local authority
  • Name and address – An appeal must have the name and address of the person making the appeal.

You also spoke with someone who deals with press queries in An Bord Pleanála in recent days. What information did you get from that?

A number of points came to light following this chat with a man named Chris.

  • ABP does not vet every appeal it receives – it takes them in good faith
  • However, if someone raises the possibility that an appellant is not who they claim to be, then ABP’s process is to send a letter to that appellant telling them that their identity is being questioned. He says, in many cases, the appellant replies to the letter and verifies their identity—as in, they prove that they are who they claimed to be.
    • He says this happens a handful of times every year.
  • We asked if it’s shown that an appellant isn’t who they say they are, will this affect the validity of the appeal. He said it would cause the appeal to be dismissed and rendered invalid.
  • We then asked if the appeal was dismissed, would it be mentioned in the inspector’s or the board’s final report i.e. would the appellant be named? He said no, if the appeal is deemed invalid by ABP, then there would be no mention in the final publication.
    • What this means then, conversely, is if the appellant is named, then it’s fair to assume their appeal was deemed valid and therefore taken into account. In relation to what weight ABP gave to an individual appeal, that’s not known.

Finally, this feature was not intended to put into doubt anyone’s right to object or appeal to a planning application or planning decision – it is something everyone is entitled to do.

We weren’t trying to prove every submission or application made in relation to Cable O’Leary’s were from the parties they were purported to be from. It was to show that the identity of just one was – from our investigation – impossible to verify.

All the records and documents we’ve spoken about in relation to the planning are publicly available on the Kerry County Council or An Bord Pleanála’s websites.

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This is an audio version of the above story, coupled with a reply from Fianna Fáil councillor Michael O’Shea

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Additional Notes – October 2019 

This story developed over the following months. Here are those news stories. 

September 2019 – A Kerry councillor is calling for action to reduce the number of bogus planning objections.

Councillor Mike O’Shea brought a motion to the monthly meeting of the Castleisland-Chorca Dhuibhne MD, asking the Minister for the Environment, Community & Local Government to change planning regulations to combat bogus objectors.

A Radio Kerry investigation into a planning application in South Kerry earlier this year showed it was impossible to verify the identity of one objector; it was also shown that local authorities and An Bord Pleanála have no obligation to verify the identities of appellants and objectors.

Councillor O’Shea, whose motion to write to the minister was passed at yesterday’s municipal district meeting, says individuals are entitled to object.

However, the Fianna Fáil councillor claims the planning laws in Ireland favour bogus objectors.

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October 2019 – A Labour TD named a South Kerry planning application during an Oireachtas Committee meeting this week.

Alan Kelly was speaking during a Public Accounts Committee meeting, where An Bord Pleanála produced their financial statements for 2018.

The Labour TD spoke about a proposed development at Cable O’Leary’s in Ballinskelligs, where an application for a 45-bedroom hotel and associated amenities was refused by An Bord Pleanála following two objections to the development.

Earlier this year, a Radio Kerry investigation showed it was impossible to verify the identity one of the objectors.

Deputy Kelly says the planning process is broken if it’s impossible to prove a named appellant exists.

Eamonn Hickson – October 2019 – Radio Kerry