Challenge brought over decision concerning proposed drug rehab facility linked to Church of Scientology

Aodhan O Faolain

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Aodhan O Faolain

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Challenge brought over decision concerning proposed drug rehab facility linked to Church of Scientology

Challenge brought over decision concerning proposed drug rehab facility linked to Church of Scientology

A High Court challenge has been brought over a decision by an Bord Plenala concerning a proposed €9m Co Meath-based drug rehabilitation centre linked to the Church of Scientology.

The action arises out the planning authorities decision last November to deem that the change of use of the permitted nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation facility is not an exempted development.

In 2014 planning permission for a nursing home at the site was granted the former Old National School in Ballivor Co Meath, which was not built.

The site was acquired by Narconon Trust, which is linked to the Church of Scientology, which supports drug rehabilitation charities as part of its mission.

The trust was founded by Mr Massimo Angius who has been a trustee and director of the Church of Scientology in England for more than 20 years.

The trust plans to open a residential drug rehabilitation facility on the site in the coming months.

It bought the site after it secured a declaration from Meath Co Council in 2016 that the proposed change of use from a nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation facility is an exempted development and did not require a fresh planning application to be made.

The trust provides drug prevention, education, and residential rehab programmes at approximately 40 facilities all over the world has already spent €9m on purchasing and constructing the facility.

In February 2018 Ballivor Community Group and Trim Municipal District of Meath Co Council sought various declarations from Meath Council asking if the proposed facility is exempted development.

The Council referred the matter to An Bord Pleanala, which in November held that the change of use of the permitted nursing home to the residential drug rehabilitation facility is not exempted development.

As a result, the trust has brought proceedings against An Bord Pleanala.

Represented in court by Jarath Fitzsimons SC the trust, which is registered in Sussex in the UK, seeks a High Court order quashing the board's decision.

Counsel said that the flawed decision should be quashed on the basis the referrals to the board are an impermissible collateral challenge to the Council's decision in 2016.

The board counsel said had erred in law by concluding it had to determine the referral made by Meath Co Council.

It was open to the board to dismiss the referral as the same question has been answered by Meath Co Council in 2016, and there had been no change in the factual or planning circumstances that would warrant a new decision by the board.

It also seeks a declaration from the court including that in making the decision An Bord Pleanala took into account irrelevant considerations, overlooked and misunderstood relevant considerations, and acted unreasonably.

Counsel said his client was also seeking a stay on the board's decision because it feared that enforcement proceedings could be brought against the trust.

Meath Co Council, the Ballivor Community Group, and Trim Municipal District are notice parties to the proceedings.

The application came before Mr Justice Seamus Noonan on Monday.

The Judge, on an ex parte basis, granted the trust permission to bring the proceedings.

The judge also put a stay on the board's decision, pending further order of the court. The matter was made returnable to a date in March.