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Friday, March 1, 2024

Carlow Nationalist — Leitrim Co Council challenges proposed use of hotel to house asylum seekers

Leitrim County Council has issued High Court enforcement proceedings over a proposal to house some 150 international protection applicants at a former hotel in Dromahair village.

The local authority alleges Dromaprop Limited intends to change the use of its Abbey Manor Hotel from a “specific form of tourist accommodation” to temporary use for asylum seekers and has carried out unauthorised works in preparation for this change.

Planning permission granted for the premises was based on commercial tourism use, where specific tourism-related policies were cited, the council alleges.

Last November, a large group of Dromahair locals held protests in the village over concerns that asylum seekers were to be accommodated at the hotel.

Dromaprop, which owns the premises, asked the court on Monday to fix an urgent hearing date for the council’s proceedings alongside the company’s separate but related judicial review action.

The firm’s case seeks to quash the council’s decision of January 9th to declare as invalid its certificate of compliance with building regulations. Dromaprop also wants the court to direct Leitrim County Council to enter the certificate of compliance onto its official register.

It says it was entitled to avail of an exemption for the change of use to temporary accommodation for displaced people or those seeking international protection.

The company’s senior counsel, Niall Handy, instructed by Shannon & O’Connor Solicitors, told the court on Monday that a full compliance certification was completed in December following a long process of engagement with the council.

From his client’s perspective, all required works have been completed but the council’s decision to invalidate his compliance certification and to issue enforcement proceedings is preventing the building from operating.

Ms Justice Niamh Hyland granted permission for Dromaprop to pursue its claim and transferred the case to the High Court’s Planning and Environment list. Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, who deals with planning matters, scheduled for both cases to be heard in April.

Limerick County Council is asking the court to restrain Dromaprop from carrying out what it alleges is unauthorised development at the hotel, specifically in changing its use from commercial tourist accommodation to temporary use to accommodate displaced people or those seeking asylum.

It says the company should also be prevented from carrying out works, including to the layout of the premises, that relate to this alleged change of use.

In an affidavit to the court, council senior planner Bernard Greene, said the local authority is “acutely aware of the accommodation issues facing persons seeking international protection and has no desire to impede the lawful accommodation of such persons”.

However, here, what is proposed is not per planning code requirements, he said.

The proposed new use will see a significant increase in the volume of people accommodated, while a condition of the hotel’s planning permission restricted its use for “short-term letting only”, he said.

The council has been briefed by the Department of Integration that the hotel will have capacity for 155 people in 47 bedrooms, with 124 beds for families, he said.

Mr Greene said the council does not accept Dromaprop’s contention that the change of use is exempted development. The company should not proceed with the intended change in use until it obtains planning permission for this, he added.

In its case, Dromaprop, which has offices in Lucan, Co Dublin, alleges the council committed a “fundamental” error in invalidating its certificate on the “sole basis” that it relates only to a phase of construction works and does not include the whole building completion.

The council erred factually in stating that it could not assess the completed phase of the development of compliance while the completion of the entirety of the development was pending. This was materially incorrect where the only portions of the development not included in the certificate were in the basement, which is not going to be used at all.

Declan Hallinan, a director of the company, said in an affidavit that Dromaprop has liaised with the council and the Department of Integration to ensure compliance with all statutory and regulatory obligations.

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