UPDATED TO CLARIFY AND EXPLAIN FURTHER: In September I wrote about the close relationship between councillors, bank managers and people in the property business in Clifden, and the bizarre situation that emerged from that. It followed an article in The Sunday Times and blog post, both by Mark Tighe.
The basics; Declan Maher, manager of the local AIB branch and Kevin Barry, an accountant-turned-property-investor went into business together to form BMB Partnership/Marketing. Kevin Barry, acting for BMB, then applied to AIB Clifden for a $60m loan. Next, Maher, in his role as manager of the AIB branch, wrote to BMB – in which he was a partner – to “confirm to agree in principle” the transfer of funds.
Maher seemingly failed to declare any conflict of interest. Following the revelations in the Sunday Times AIB began investigating the matter.
The loan was sought to finance the purchase of lands in Florida which BMB had looked to acquire as part of a property investment syndicate. Other members of the syndicate included former Fianna Fáil councillor, Josie Conneely and mayor of Bundoran, Eammonn Barrett, a Fine Gael representative. Maher says the letter he wrote to BMB was only going to be used to show the person selling the lands that funding was available. He claims the loan would never have been completed through his office, that they would have used a different bank or AIB official.
More below the fold…
Worth noting; ex-FF councillor, Josie Conneely has been in embroiled in a separate controversy in the recent past. Weeks before the local elections he managed to get his land rezoned despite the “severe objections” of the county manager. He lost his seat in said elections. For more on that rezoning issue see this report by Daniel McConnell of the Sunday Independent.
So it’s pretty much established that the people involved in the syndicate, collectively, are well-connected and are fairly influential in parts of Galway.
Getting to the point; it’s now interesting to note that Kevin Barry has been granted permission to build on a site outside Galway owned by his father. The permission was rubber-stamped in December but had been applied for before the local elections. It is for a 427msq dwelling which would be built into a slope overlooking Ballynakill Harbour. The land is currently being used “periodically” to graze horses. However, in the last week it has emerged that Ian Lumley of An Tasice has appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanala on the basis that (my emphasis);
1. The proposal would constitute the development of an inappropriate non-essential housing unit in a landscape sensitive, coastal area.
2. The proposal would contravene the provisions of the DOEHLG Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines and the provisions of the Galway County Development Plan with regard to control of development in landscape sensitive areas.
3. The applicants have failed to identify the extent of their existing property developments.
Documentation available on the site’s permissions can be viewed here [obscure browser plug-in required by Galway County Council website however] if you search reference number 09935.
Each point is relevant to the other, it’s therefore quite difficult to separate and explain them singularly. The second one is simply the opinion of An Taisce, which I do not have the expertise to expand upon or argue against. There is relevant information on the two other points however.
On point one: The site is a level 4 landscape sensitive area, level 5 are to most protected areas. Planning permission on level 4 sites is only granted in exceptional circumstances for restricted types of dwellings.
There are two pieces of documentation which are not available online which are relevant to this point. These are the “Housing needs declaration” and “Other documents”, both listed at the above link but marked as ‘restricted viewing’. They can be viewed in person on request, as far as I know.
Housing needs declarations may be used to detail exceptional personal circumstances of the applicant which may influence whether permission be granted or not. A reader who alerted us to the appeal says that Mr Barry has claimed he has an “essential housing need” in the restricted document, though it should be noted I could not confirm that today (simply because I didn’t have time to call Galway County Council). Parts of the available documentation do seem to imply this to be correct however.
Taking it as correct, one would have question, as An Tasice seem to be, just how “essential” such a housing need could be when you consider that Mr Barry owns Clifden Property Rentals. That company has five properties available on the frontpage of its website alone, including one which sleeps 13 people. Those properties are relevant to the third point made in the statement by An Tasice to An Bord Pleanála.
Galway County Council’s rural housing guidelines define someone with an essential housing need in fairly narrow terms too. While it is restricted to the son or daughter of the current landowner, which Kevin Barry is, the terms are further specified as (my emphasis)…
An individual or a family [which] may require to live in close proximity to some existing farm related activity in order to ensure that it functions properly. This differs from the category above in that the applicant may derive a substantial portion of hisher income from off-farm activity but because of the nature of the particular farm activity that is being engaged in a dwelling is required on or near the farm. It is estimated that the number of applicants that would qualify under this provision will be small.
The Barry family are hoteliers, with, according to locals [unconfirmed], no farming background. It’s hard to get concrete information on this as Mr Barry does not cite lands registered by him, though requested to do so, in his application. The land in question certainly is not being used for farming. As I said earlier, in the application the land is currently said to be used “periodically” for grazing horses. It doesn’t sound like a bustling farmstead producing vast amounts of milk or meat for that description.
Despite the rural development policies stating permission should be given almost solely for residencies of those involved in farming activities Mr Barry accepts, strangely enough, that this is not the case in his situation. The sentence below is also part of information supplied to the planning authorities on November 24 following a request made by the planning authorities on July 7, the applicant says…
The proposed site was also chosen because the lands do not provide a farming income to the family due to the topography of the site
Other arguments put forward by Mr Barry and seemingly rejected by An Tasice are listed on page 8 of the PDF of the C2 Planners Report on the site:
The applicant has submitted a housing need application form and a letter referring to a plane accident and applicants subsequent injuries has been submitted. No information has been submitted to establish that the applicant has an essential residential need to live at this location. This will be dealt with by means of further information.
Mr Barry was involved in a plane crash in Connemara in 2007, I don’t know the extent of his injuries. I do, of course, sympathise and hope he finds somewhere suitable to live within the restrictions set out by the Council. In the details ‘submitted by further information’ Mr Barry says the site was chosen as, to paraphrase, his injuries require he leads a quiet life. However, on that note, one would have to highlight that he does manage to maintain an accountancy firm, property development/rental business and a local taxi company. To quote the claim from C2 planners report for the record:
The [other] family lands are too close to a public road and the applicant needs to be in a quiet area due to injuries sustained by him.
So, to summarise (and probably over-simplify):
The land is considered landscape sensitivity level 4 by the authorities. Development on such lands is restricted strictly, almost solely, to individuals looking to continue or improve their farming activities. The land is not currently being used for farming and Mr Barry has no plans to begin farming on it.
There is apparently no members of Barry family involved locally in farming – though this cannot be established as Mr Barry has not declared any of his properties, as required by the format of the application. Mr Barry has an extensive local property portfolio, his family also owns a local hotel, yet he still claims there is an essential housing need due to his medical condition.
The proposed development doesn’t meet the criteria for developments in level 4 areas, according to An Taisce.
Anyway, planning permission was granted and An Taisce has appealed.
Overall, a complicated case, I’m sure you’ll agree. Undoubtedly there will be a basic explanation but at the very least, one has to wonder why Mr Barry didn’t declare the other properties at his disposal in the application.
Let’s keep an eye on this one.
Thanks to the reader who brought this to our attention.