PLANS Pictured is an artist’s impression of the proposed Portwest development at the Quay that has now been refused by An Bord Pleanála, and a picture of Portwest’s current headquarters in Westport.
Local councillor says people are ‘horrified’ by decision
The Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council has called on Portwest to appeal An Bord Pleanála’s decision to refuse planning permission for the company’s new global headquarters to the High Court.
The Westport-based company had proposed to locate its €10 million global headquarters at The Quay, Westport, and last year Mayo County Council granted planning permission for the office building.
However, the decision was appealed by a number of local people and last Tuesday following a lengthly appeal process, An Bord Pleanála (ABP) refused permission for the development.
The Inspector with ABP, Suzanne Kehely, had initially recommended granting planning permission for the development, but the Board overruled her decision.
Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Brendan Mulroy described the decision as a ‘sad day’ for Westport, as the development had the potential to create 50 new jobs for the town. On his Facebook page, Cllr Mulroy wrote that he it is ‘maybe time for people to reflect’ on what he called an ‘opportunity that Westport has missed out’.
The Westport-based councillor told The Mayo News that many people in Westport were disappointed by ABP’s decision and said he would support the company if they brought a judicial review of the decision.
“I am not 100 percent sure if they can bring a judicial review, but if they can I would urge them to take this to the High Court to get it overturned. I have not spoken to [Portwest owners] the Hughes family and I don’t know what their views are, but these are my own views.
“There has been an out-pouring of support for this development in Westport, and people are horrified that jobs have been taken out of Westport,” said Cllr Mulroy, who went on to compare the situation to the Athenry Apple data-centre saga. “We are a smaller version of that here in Westport,” Cllr Mulroy claimed.
In giving its decision to refuse permission for the Portwest development, the Board of An Bord Pleanála stated that the proposed development was in ‘an area which is at risk of flooding’ and it was not satisfied that the site would not remain vulnerable to flooding, and would ‘therefore, be prejudicial to public health’.
“In deciding not to accept the Inspector’s recommendation to grant permission, the Board considered that a precautionary approach to flood risk should apply in this instance … In conclusion the Board considered that the proposed development would, therefore, be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area,” An Bord Pleanála stated.
In response to the planning authority’s decision, the management of Portwest stated that they had worked ‘tirelessly to bring this project to Westport and to create over 50 new graduate jobs’.
“The management and staff of Portwest are all very disappointed with the planning decision. The inspector of An Bord Pleanála recommended the granting of planning to the board of An Bord Pleanála, however the board did not accept the inspectors recommendation.
“Our team have worked tirelessly to bring this project to Westport and to create over 50 new graduate jobs. After two years in the planning process, this decision means we cannot accommodate these new jobs. There are no offices large enough to rent and we have now been refused planning permission to build in Westport,” they stated.
“The management and staff of Portwest wish to thank the six out of seven councillors who supported the development at the Quay, Mayo County Council who granted planning permission and the An Bord Pleanála inspector who recommended planning. We especially thank the Quay businesses and many local people who backed this office development. Portwest will continue to grow at its other sites around the world and will bring its innovative safety products to a global market,” the statement concluded.
The project had received the full backing of the management of Mayo County Council with the council’s Chief Executive, Peter Hynes, recommending its approval – despite serious reservations and objections raised by a senior planner in Mayo County Council and the Westport Town Architect.
Mayo County Council described An Bord Pleanála’s decision was ‘an unfortunate outcome’.
“This is an unfortunate outcome after a long and expensive process. It will preclude the development of an iconic 21st-century building at the Quay, which would have involved a multi-million investment and would have brought significant employment and economic activity to the area on an all-year-round basis.
“In reaching its decision the Board overturned the recommendation of its own inspector to grant permission. Mayo County Council will await sight of the Inspector’s report before making any further comment,” the statement read.
The location of the site at The Quay, a scenic local amenity, was one of the most controversial aspects of the development. The 0.615 hectare site at Roman Island had originally been zoned for Marine Related Tourism, and a material contravention was needed to rezone it. A special meeting of the West Mayo Municipal District was called in September 2018 to discuss a material contravention, with six local councillors voting in favour and one voting against.
Mayo County Council’s own senior planners had recommended refusal for the project, but a peer review of the project by an three-person independent expert panel recommended granting planning permission subject to 37 recommendations.
One of the recommendations was that the Westport-based workwear manufacturer would have to indemnify Mayo County Council against any liability in the event of the site and building being flooded by a weather event and any issues arising from such an event. However, Ms Kehely said she did not consider it an ‘entirely appropriate condition of planning permission in this case’ and said that it should be omitted.
The Portwest building was to be located on the site of the old Pollexfen Mills on Roman Island and was designed by Dublin-based MOLA Architecture. The architecture firm stated that the design was inspired by ‘local rock outcrops and coastal tower houses’.
The four-storey development was to consist of approximately 2,593 square metres of office space and include a gym, a shower and changing facility, a canteen, a café and an ICT room. A five-storey stair and lift core was to provide access to a screened ‘plant area’ at roof level. The building was intended to accommodate approximately 150 employees.
Up to 20 local people, including current councillor Peter Flynn, appealed Mayo County Council decision to grant planning. The objections included the risk of flooding to the site as well as parking, the design and location of the building and the reasons given by the Chief Executive, Peter Hynes to recommend the granting of planning permission.
Fáilte Ireland had also initially voiced its concern regarding the project, but later changed its opinion and supported the proposal. There was also support among many of the businesspeople at The Quay, who believed it would be of significant benefit to the area and would ease the burden of the slow winter-retail season.
In her report Ms Kehely stated that having considered all the factors involved, she recommended granting planning permission, stating that the proposed development will ‘contribute to the vitality of the Harbour area and the balanced development of Westport’.
“It is considered that the proposed development would not detract from the character or visual amenities of the area or the views and setting of Westport Demesne, would not be prejudicial to public safety by reason of flood risk, would be acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience and would be in accordance with the provisions of the National Planning Framework in its policies to consolidate towns and cities,” she wrote.