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Sarsfield Heights in Cork Google Street View
An Bord Pleanála

ABP rules no permission required for Cork housing estate to be taken over for social housing

The local authority said any difference between the authorised use of the development and the proposed use by Respond was not deemed significant.

THE POTENTIAL TAKEOVER of a new housing estate in a suburb of Cork city by an approved housing body to deliver social housing is not considered a development which would require planning permission, An Bord Pleanála has ruled.

A local residents’ group had expressed concern that plans for at least 65 houses in Sarsfield Heights in Wilton, to be used for social housing under the management of Respond Housing Association, would mean properties would not be available for sale to the private market including first-time buyers.

Eagle Valley Residents claimed approved housing bodies effectively had the same impact on the housing market as vulture funds by bulk buying houses en bloc.

However, An Bord Pleanála has confirmed that a proposed change of ownership or tenure mix of housing units in Sarsfield Heights is not considered a development under planning legislation.

It rejected the recommendation of its own planning inspector who concluded that such a change of use was not an exempted development which meant it would require planning permission.

The issue had been referred to An Bord Pleanála by Eagle Valley Residents, a residents’ group from an adjoining housing estate.

It followed the group’s original referral of the issue to Cork City Council which ruled that the proposed use of the housing estate by an approved housing body would not be a development under planning laws.

The local authority said any difference between the authorised use of the development and the proposed use by Respond was not deemed significant in planning terms.

Eagle Valley Residents pointed out that only around six of the existing units in Sarsfield Heights are used for social housing under Part V obligations.

The group said it understood there were plans for 65 or more units to come under the control of Respond based on a Facebook post by local independent councillor, Thomas Moloney in May 2022.

It also noted that Respond had posted on Twitter in October 2021 that the Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien had visited a site for delivering 65 new social homes at Sarsfield Road.

The residents said planning permissions for the Sarsfield Heights estate were granted on the basis that it was a 69-unit mixed tenure development.

They claimed it was not designed or intended for use for only one category of resident.

Eagle Valley Residents contended that support services provided by Respond would fall within the definition of “care” under planning legislation which would require planning permission for a change of use of the existing housing units in Sarsfield Heights.

They claimed the change of use would also unduly restrict the supply of housing in the area and would represent a material contravention of planning policy.

The group claimed there was a feeling among the local community that Cork City Council was bypassing the planning and public consultation process to meet its housing targets.

It expressed concern that a concentration of social housing in Sarsfield Heights could also result in additional traffic and parking problems as well as an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour.

In its ruling, An Bord Pleanála said the proposed change of use of ownership or tenure mix “would not be material.”

It did not consider that the care and support service that might be provided by an organisation like Respond would be at such a level or intensity to constitute “care” under planning legislation which would regard the change as a development.

The board said that any care provided by Respond would not differ materially from the care and support that may occasionally be required by any potential residents of a new development.

It said it was satisfied that the purported use would not differ materially from any planning considerations that arose at the original time that planning permissions were granted for the houses in Sarsfield Heights.

In addition, the board said it did not believe the change would create any material difference in traffic levels.

Seán McCárthaigh
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