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Serial objectors lose appeal in case covered by RTÉ investigation

Serial planning objectors John and Michael Callaghan have lost an appeal against a housing development planned for Co Cork.

The details of the planning application process for the development featured in the RTÉ Investigates programme, ‘The Planning Trap’ which looked at so-called go-away payments made in the planning appeals system. These are payments made by developers to people who have objected to their planning applications in return for appeals being withdrawn against their developments.

Housing developer David Hogan was the only developer in the programme who would not pay the Callaghans a go-away payment. He had to wait over a year for the appeal brought by the Callaghans to be heard by the planning appeals board, An Bord Pleanála.

He expressed relief after the board decided to grant him permission this week, rejecting the appeal by the Callaghans.

The site in Watergrasshill, Cork

Two other developers who featured in the programme paid money to the Callaghans. This led to the Callaghans immediately withdrawing appeals, thereby allowing the developers to proceed with their building projects.

When David Hogan did not pay the Callaghans, the two brothers were not persuaded to withdraw their appeal. This meant his planning application for 74 houses in Watergrasshill, Co Cork, was held up for over 12 months due to delays in the appeals board.

In its ruling this week, the planning appeals board said the proposed development was “in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

The board said it had decided to grant permission as the original permission granted by Cork County Council complied with housing density and visual and residential amenities standards. The permission was subject to conditions, which Mr Hogan said he expected to comply with in accordance with his original planning permission.

Speaking to RTÉ Investigates, David Hogan described it as “a bitter-sweet result”.

“I am obviously very pleased that badly needed houses can now be delivered. But as things stand, the systemic problems in the planning appeals process are still there. There is nothing stopping others from making these type of appeals again,” he said.

David Hogan

The appeal against the development in Cork was brought by John Callaghan, who lives 290 kilometres away in Kells, Co Meath, and Michael Callaghan, also known as Micheál O Ceallacháin, who lives over 300 kilometres away near Westport, Co Mayo. They submitted the appeal under the name of an environmental group called An Lucht Inbhuanaithe, which is Irish for “The Sustainable People”.

The Callaghans describe the group as an NGO, or non-governmental organisation. These organisations are typically not-for-profit advocacy groups. But experts say the activities of these two men are not what they would expect from a typical environmental NGO.

In secret footage broadcast in December, John Callaghan revealed how the withdrawal of his appeals typically involves confidential deals with developers.

The investigation revealed how the Callaghans wanted €100,000 in return for withdrawing a planning appeal in respect of a separate development, also in Co Cork. They later produced a handwritten agreement for an option to buy two sites for a nominal fee in the very housing development to which they were previously opposed.

The programme was broadcast in early December and can be viewed on the RTÉ Player. It revealed how the Callaghans received a payoff of more than €50,000 after withdrawing a separate mischievous planning appeal in respect of a commercial development in Kildare.

RTÉ Investigates asked both John and his brother Micheal Callaghan about payments they received from developers.

In a response to our letters, John Callaghan provided a one-line statement, stating: “Please be aware that neither of the parties referred to in your letters has done anything unlawful.”

The Taoiseach has said the Attorney General and officials in the Departments of Justice and Housing are examining issues raised in the programme.

The planning appeals board is also reviewing files in relation to appeals submitted by John Callaghan.

This story features on the 11 January edition of Prime Time, broadcast at 9.35pm on RTÉ One television.

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