Offaly family's letter to Minister reveals extent of housing crisis

The family have written a powerful letter to the Minister for Housing

Justin Kelly

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Justin Kelly

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news@offalyexpress.ie

Offaly family's letter to Minister reveals extent of housing crisis

Offaly family's letter to Minister reveals extent of housing crisis

An Offaly family struggling to get planning permission in their native Ballycumber for over three years have penned a letter to Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy.

In the letter seen by the Offaly Express, Aoife Phelan, says, "I am writing to you as a concerned citizen of Ireland. I have never composed a letter to a politician in the past, but in utter frustration of the lengths myself and my husband are going to to secure planning permission for our family home, I feel compelled to write to you."

Aoife and Trevor who have two young children, say they decided to send the letter to Eoghan Murphy because he has the power to "make a difference," adding, "change is needed to our current ineffective system." They also say they face homelessness with their rental agreement coming to an end and no prospect of beginning work on their 'dream home' on the land they were reared on. 

Aoife outlined her family's experience of the planning process with Offaly County Council, saying they initially lodged plans to build a house in Ballycumber in March 2015. The couple, who were newly married couple at the time, say this application was refused by the council in June 2015 because "the proposed site is on a restricted Regional route R436 where under the provisions of Policy SSP19 of the Offaly County Development Plan 2014-2020 the applicants must have a functional need to reside in this particular rural area."

Disappointed with this outcome, the couple engaged in pre-planning consultations in August and December 2015 before submitting a second application on the same site on February 9. Aoife claims, "we provided documentation proving our
‘functional’ need to reside in the area but we subsequently withdrew this application in December 2016 under advice from the council that they believed we had an alternative site on the family landholdings."

PICTURED: The couple put together their laborious timeline of the planning process 

Aoife and Trevor say they then decided to cut their financial losses on the initial site, saying they accepted the council's position and "returned to the drawing board."

Keen to live in their native county, the couple again submitted an entire new set of plans and particulars in November 2017 - on the site that the council recommended, their third planning application to the council.

Aoife says since then, "the process has been dragged out to the maximum, in our experience when dealing with our local council."

"The council would correspond with us on the day before a decision was due to be made and seek further information. We submitted the further information requested. Once again on the day before a decision was due to be made, clarification of further information was requested. We responded to all requests and alas on the very last day that our case was to be decided, 6 months after the council received our application, on May 23, a decision was finally made and we received notification of a decision to grant permission," Aoife explained.

The family were overjoyed but yet more delays were in the pipeline. Applicants must wait one month for the final grant to be issued after planning is granted, but Aoife explains in her letter to the Minister that, "unfortunately, the day before our month was up, we received notification that An Bord Plenanla had received a 3rd party appeal to our planning application."

"We were utterly devastated, as we had hoped to commence construction during the summer months when the weather is more suitable to building," Aoife said.

"An Bord Pleanala's statutory objective is to decide or dispose of appeals within 18 weeks. However, where the Board does not consider it possible or appropriate to reach a decision within 18 weeks it shall inform the parties of the reasons for this and shall state when it intends to make the decision," Aoife wrote to Minister Murphy.

Aoife and Trevor's case was due for decision by the board on October 15 but they received correspondence from An Bord Pleanala with a new ‘target’ date of December 10, over a year since they applied for their third planning permission with Offaly County Council.