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High Court

Judge refuses to grant stay to freight company storing containers in breach of planning permission

Stateline Freight claimed a failure to grant it time to make alternative arrangements will have a major economic impact on importers and exporters using Dublin Port.

THE HIGH COURT HAS refused to grant a 12-month stay on an order requiring a freight company to cease storing shipping containers on lands where it lacks planning permission to carry out that activity.

The decision was made in proceedings where the company storing the containers, Stateline Freight Limited, had claimed that a failure to grant it time so it can make alternative arrangements will have a major economic impact on importers and exporters using Dublin Port. 

The court heard that the case arose after Tesco Ireland Limited entered into a 10-year lease agreement allowing Stateline to store between 1500 and 2000 containers, stacked in towers of five or more, at lands owned by the supermarket chain at Compass Distribution Park, in Santry in Dublin.

Fingal County Council brought proceedings against Tesco under Section 160 of the 2000 Planning and Development Act, claiming that the storage of the containers, which commenced in 2020, was unauthorised development.

Arising out of those proceedings Tesco sued Stateline where it sought various orders including an injunction requiring the unauthorised development to cease.

That action was compromised last month, with Stateline agreeing to the terms of the injunction. 

As part of the settlement Tesco said that it was prepared to place a 12-month stay on the injunction coming into force.

Tesco accepted that the granting of the stay was ultimately a matter for the High Court judge hearing the case.  

Stateline sought the stay on grounds including that it need time to buy an alternative site, and to obtain planning permission on those new lands for the storage of containers.

It had also claimed that the immediate cessation of the activities on the site would have a “catastrophic effect on the freight business generally” and claims that the loss of container storage space will result in additional costs for importers and exporters.

In his judgement today, Mr Justice Garrett Simons said that the court was not prepared to grant the stay. 

There were no discretionary features which merited the court granting the stay, he said, and gave Stateline six weeks to remove the containers from the site.

The court said that Stateline could apply to the relevant planning authorities for temporary planning permission for the activity, but such an application was not a matter for the courts.

The judge said the court enjoys a discretion to grant such a stay for such a large-scale development that lacks planning permission.

The breach in this case was “conscious and deliberate,” the judge said.

The court said it considered all evidence, which included evidence from an economist on behalf of Stateline, put before it.  

The evidence he said “fails to establish that the economic effects of the closure of the unauthorised container storage facility are such that it would be in the public interest to allow the unauthorised use to continue unabated for a further twelve months.”

The court noted that not only is there no planning permission for the container storage facility, but retention permission was refused by the Planning Authority on grounds including material contravention of the development plan, adverse impact on residential amenity and potential traffic hazard.

The decision regarding retention is under appeal to An Bord Pleanála, the judge added.

The judge said that “recent case law from the Supreme Court has emphasised that there is a strong public interest in upholding the integrity of the planning and development system.”

“This aspect of the public interest has to be weighed in the balance against any countervailing public interest asserted such as, relevantly, any assertion that an unauthorised development involves the provision of an important infrastructural facility or service” he added.

Both the Attorney General and Fingal County Council were notice parties to the stay application.

The matter will return before the court later this month.

Aodhan O Faolain