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Major leisure and biodiversity centre in Booterstown refused planning permission over pollution concerns

The site is located opposite the former Tara Towers Hotel on the Merrion Road.

Image: Dublin City Council

PLANNING PERMISSION HAS been refused for a major new leisure and biodiversity centre on the southside of Dublin Bay close to an important wildlife sanctuary because of its potential environmental impact on EU protected habitats.

Dublin City Council has rejected plans for a five-storey “recreational and interpretative centre” next to An Taisce’s nature reserve at Booterstown Marsh over concerns that it could cause water pollution in Dublin Bay.

The site is located opposite the former Tara Towers Hotel on the Merrion Road.

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The large-scale project had been proposed by Soundvale, a development firm owned by well-known businessman, Paddy McKillen Jnr, of the Press Up entertainment and hospitality group which runs a large number of bars, restaurants and hotels in Ireland.

The company had sought approval for an 18.5m metre high building consisting of an interpretive centre, crèche, café, restaurant, health studios, gym, spa, swimming pool, jacuzzi and hydro pool.

Although Soundvale said the interpretive centre was not commercially driven, it envisaged charging an entrance fee to ensure it was sustainable and generated income.

The centre, which had a capacity for 120 visitors at any one time, was due to be managed by an independent, not-for-profit entity, while the recreational facilities were due to be run by the Press Up group.

The biodiversity proposals for the site included a new coastal meadow, tree belt, shrub garden and bird hide.

Rejecting the application, Dublin City Council said it could not be satisfied that the proposed development would not have a significant impact on wetlands in Dublin Bay.

The council said the project would run contrary to its policy to conserve and manage protected habitats by ensuring that any adverse environmental effects were avoided, remedied or mitigated where sustainable coastal recreational facilities were proposed.

A report by council planners said the location of the proposed development was “a highly sensitive, environmentally valuable site” which was one of a few remaining vacant coastal sites within the council’s administrative boundaries.

“There is therefore a critical need to ensure that any development respects and protects the biodiversity of the site,” the report stated.

It noted that information provided by Soundvale could not alleviate the council’s concerns that excavation work in areas of contaminated soils containing mineral oil might adversely affect groundwater which could impact on protected areas within Dublin Bay.

The council claimed dust emissions from the site would also have a moderate to high ecological impact, while a report supplied by the developer acknowledged that the project had the potential to impact on wildlife during the construction phase.

Although a Natura Impact Statement furnished by Soundvale claimed the project would not adversely affect protected habitats, the council said it had not been able to conclude “that the development could proceed without detriment to the environment”.

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Separate decision

A separate but related decision about the project is due from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council as the 1.9 hectare site occupies land in the administrative area of the two local authorities.

The main building was located within the area governed by Dublin City Council.

The plans were also opposed by An Taisce, which claimed they would set an undesirable precedent for development of a large scale commercial nature on green and open spaces in the city.

An Taisce said the commercial leisure facilities would be much more appropriately located in the new hotel being built on the site of the former Tara Towers hotel.

The development was also opposed by the Friends of Booterstown Coast group which claimed the site is located in the buffer zone for the UNESCO Dublin Bay Biosphere as well as being prone to flooding.

The group, some of whose members attempted to buy the site when it was controlled by NAMA, claimed the proposal was for a “commercial leisure development” which, if approved, would represent a material contravention of the existing city development plan.

Soundvale claimed its objective was “to deliver a world class recreational facility and interpretative centre in a coastal meadow and biodiversity-rich setting” that would benefit the local and wider community.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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