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Portwest disappointed with Bord Pleanála decision


Westport-based company says decision will prevent the creation of 50 new jobs

Anton McNulty

Portwest expressed its disappointment with the decision by An Bord Pleanála to refuse permission to develop its global headquarters in Westport but defiantly stated it will ‘continue to grow at its other sites around the world’.
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, following a lengthly appeal process, An Bord Pleanála refused permission for the development.
In response to the planning authority’s decision, the management of Portwest said they had worked ‘tirelessly’ on this project.
“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 read.
In giving its decision to refuse permission for the development, the Board of An Bord Pleanála stated that it was in ‘an area which is at risk of flooding’ and that it is not satisfied that it 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.
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 Inspectors 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 a three-person independent expert panel recommended granting planning permission subject to 37 recommendations.
One of the recommendations was that the Westport-based workwear-clothing 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.
The new 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.
While there was a number of objections to the development, there was also support among many of the business people 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.