A couple in Navan have recently been ordered to demolish their Family Home after building the house in spite of being refused planning permission by the Meath County Council
A couple from County Meath appear to have taken the old adage that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission to heart when they decided to defy Irish planning law in building a house against the wishes of the Meath County Council. In the end, they got neither permission nor forgiveness. The Council applied to destroy the home, where the husband and wife now live with their three children. After a long legal battle, the Supreme Court recently affirmed a 2010 High Court decision affirming the council’s order that the house must be demolished.
While the specific facts of this case detail a “flagrant” breach of Irish planning law, it still acts as a stark warning for anyone considering building works without permission. Here’s what happened:
In 2006, they purchased the land on which their home now stands. They applied for planning permission to build a house and were refused according to the Council’s policy. The land, the Council submitted, was for agricultural use.
Frustrated by being blocked again after two previously rejected applications on nearby land, the pair proceeded to build their home regardless. Notably, they built a house twice the size of the proposed one that had been rejected.
The Council threatened, and eventually brought, enforcement proceedings to have the house demolished. These went through An Bord Pleanála, which sided with the Council. Among other reasons, An Bord Pleanála cited the fact that retaining this house would:
“Give rise to an excessive density of development in a rural area lacking certain public services and community facilities…”
The Board gave other reasons for siding in favor of demolition: the building was out of character for the area, and it would be “prejudicial to public health” in creating an “excessive wastewater concentration” given the lack of treatment facilities.
In 2010, the couple appealed again, which took the case to the High Court. There, the Court upheld An Bord Pleanála’s decision “with very great regret”. It held that as difficult as the family’s situation was, as a matter of policy such an overt breach of planning law simply could not go unchecked.
After the High Court’s decision against them, the family only had one option left: the Supreme Court. On appeal to Ireland’s highest court, they strengthened their case with new Constitutional and European Court of Human Rights-based arguments. Their argument relied heavily on the inevitable hardship which they would encounter if the High Court’s decision were upheld.
Throughout, the Judge never contended that the results of a ruling for demolition would cause unfortunate hardships for the family, but like the High Court, the Supreme Court ruled that such an open breach of the planning process cannot be allowed. In conclusion, the Court stated that:
“is mindful of the hardship that this will cause … however, it cannot lose sight of the fact that the appellants have been living in an unauthorised development, which was deliberately constructed in flagrant breach of planning laws.”
The Court granted a stay of 12 months on the order, after which time the pair must have demolished their house in full. Whether or not it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, once you have asked for permission and been denied it, going ahead with the plan anyway makes it unlikely that the legal system will offer you forgiveness.
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