A Catholic diocese is facing a hefty tax bill after losing an appeal against a Council decision to place a church owned site in Ennis on the vacant site register.
By Gordon Deegan
St Flannan’s Killaloe Diocesan Trust which is the property arm of the Diocese of Killaloe had argued that the 3.28 acre site at Roslevan, Ennis should not be included on the register as the Ennis site is occasionally used for grazing by horses demonstrating that the lands are in use for an agricultural purpose.
However, this argument has been rejected by An Bord Pleanála which stated that the zoned site is suitable for housing and there is a need for housing in the area.
The decision will make the St Flannan’s Killaloe Diocesan Trust, the registered owners of the property, liable for an annual levy. The levy currently stands at 7% of the value of the lands and is due to be paid next year. It applies to lands zoned for housing or regeneration which are vacant or idle.
The diocesan trust told the appeals board that it is not a developer or speculator. They argued that it has owned the lands since 1974 and 2005 and that the existing residential zoning is only applicable to the lands from December 2016 which was after the lands were purchased. The land was recently offered to local primary school, Knockanean National School as a temporary site, the trust stated.
The appeals board inspector in the case, Erika Casey stated that there was insufficient reason put forward to cancel entry on the vacant sites register.
In its formal order, the appeals board also pointed out that the lands are suitable for the provision of housing due to the provision of public infrastructure and that the majority of the lands have been idle.
Consultants for the diocese, P Coleman and Engineers argued that the lands are in agricultural use and have been used for the grazing of horses for the past six years. The consultants state that there was correspondence from the parish priest confirming this.
The submission stated that the horses are taken off the land intermittently when grass levels are low to allow grass to recover.
The diocesan trust stated that the lands were purchased with the intent that they would be retained for community purposes in the future.
The submission stated that part of the site originally purchased has already been used for community use by the provision of additional car parking for the church and Fahy Community Hall.
On the council’s claim that there is a need for new housing, consultants for the diocesan trust stated that a number of new houses are under construction in Ennis and planning permission has been granted for further units.
Clare County Council told the appeals board that a housing needs assessment for Ennis was carried out in October 2019 and concludes that there is a need for housing in Ennis.
The Council argued that the site has been identified as a suitable site for development since 1992, yet it has remained unoccupied and is considered vacant.