Court quashes plans for high-performance rowing centre at Blessington Lake

High Court rules against Rowing Ireland’s planned centre on the shores of Blessington Lake in Wicklow
Court quashes plans for high-performance rowing centre at Blessington Lake

High Court reporters

Planning permission for Rowing Ireland’s high-performance rowing centre on the shores of Blessington Lake in Wicklow has been quashed by the High Court.

Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan remitted the matter back to An Bord Pleanála for fresh consideration after determining its finding that there was no potential for any adverse impact was “not sustainable”.

Therefore, applicant Raymond O’Sullivan of Woodend, Newtown, Eadestown, Naas, was entitled to an order overturning the board’s decision, she said in a judgment.

The Co Wicklow training centre was to include a new boathouse, ancillary building, changing areas, a gym, meeting rooms and a car park.

Special Protection Area

It was proposed for land next to the reservoir, which has been designated a Special Protection Area under the Birds and Habitats directives due to its connections with the amber-listed greylag goose and the black-backed gull.

Officially known as the Poulaphouca Resevoir, Blessington Lake was created in 1944. It was placed on a statutory footing under the European Communities Regulations in 2010, which created a requirement for a Minister’s licence for certain activities, including sports liable to significantly disturb the protected birds.

Rowing has apparently taken place on the reservoir for the last 40 years, with the existing boathouse dating back to the early 1970s, said Ms Justice O’Regan.

Rowing Ireland submitted the original planning application to Wicklow County Council in 2017.

Sport's development

Mr O’Sullivan appealed the council’s permission to An Bord Pleanála, which gave its approval. He then initiated judicial review proceedings in the High Court.

Michelle Carpenter, the chief executive of Rowing Ireland, said in a 2020 affidavit that the proposed facility is of critical importance to the development of rowing in this State, noted the judge. It was stated that it offered an opportunity for Dublin and Leinster clubs to train safely and for the Three Castles Club to grow and develop, while also facilitating the development of high performance rowing, the judge said.

In making her orders, the judge noted the board’s inspector effectively stated the proposal would not result in increased rowing activity and would not see the facility used after dark, which is the main roosting period for the greylag goose.

The conclusion drawn was that there was no potential for any adverse impacts, with the board following the inspector’s recommendations, she said.

The decision to approve was flawed, she said, given documents submitted to the board by Irish Amateur Rowing Union CLG, trading as Rowing Ireland, suggested there would be an increase in human and/or boat activities on the site.

She said the parties could make submissions to the court as to legal costs.

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