Court rules on Achill ‘Stonehenge’

16 03 2012

A Stonehenge-like structure built on Achill Island by developer Joe McNamara must be demolished if An Bord Pleanala finds it was built without planning permission, the High Court ruled today.

The massive Stonehenge-esque structure erected on an Achill hilltop by Joe McNamara. Photograph: Michael Mc Laughlin

The massive Stonehenge-esque structure erected on an Achill hilltop by Joe McNamara. Photograph: Michael Mc Laughlin


Mayo County Council had argued before the court that Mr McNamara’s application to An Bord Pleanala aimed at having the structure declared exempt from planning permission requirements cannot succeed and is “a delaying tactic”.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern agreed Mr McNamara’s application was “utterly hopeless” and was made simply “to delay the inevitable.”

In an affidavit by an architect acting on Mr McNamara’s behalf, the court was told the intended use of the structure was “primarily as an ornamental garden sited on agricultural lands”.

Mayo County Council, which contends the structure is unauthorised development, yesterday secured orders from Mr Justice McGovern compelling the developer, if An Bord Pleanala rules the structure is not exempted development, to demolish it and restore the site to its original state under the supervision of an ecologist and an archaeologist.

The Council previously told the court it has particular concerns about the structure because of its proximity to an area of special conservation on Achill.

Mr McNamara (41), with addresses at Achill Island, Co Mayo and Salthill, Co Galway, has claimed the structure – consisting of a ring with 30 large columns with tapping stones placed on top – does not require planning permission because it is exempted development within the meaning of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001.

He has applied under Section 5 of the Planning Development Act to An Bord Pleanála to have the structure deemed an exempted development. The board is due to make a decision on that application in the coming months.

Mr McNamara, who is working in the UK, was not in court.

Pat Butler SC, for the Council, told the judge an affidavit sworn by an architect acting on Mr McNamara’s behalf had stated the intended use of the structure is “primarily as an ornamental garden sited on agricultural lands.”

While a garden may be exempted development, Mr McNamara’s development contained structures which required planning permission, counsel argued. Under the planning laws, only structures in a garden erected by the State are exempt from the requirement for planning permission, he said.

Counsel said Mr McNamara’s application to An Bord Pleanala has no prospect of success and was “a delaying tactic.”

Patrick Keane, a solicitor acting for Mr McNamara, said the Council’s proceedings aimed at demolishing the structure should be put on hold until after the Board has made its decision.

Mr Justice McGovern said he would make the orders sought by the Council against Mr McNamara but would stay those pending the decision of An Bord Pleanala.

There was “overwhelming evidence” this “extraordinary structure” was not an exempted development, he said. Insufficient reasons for the structure to be regarded exempt had been offered to the court on Mr McNamara’s behalf, he added.

The judge noted the council’s concerns about the structures impact on an area of special conservation. There was enough evidence of poor planning in Ireland’s rural and urban landscapes in respect of developments were planning decisions were actually made, he also remarked.

Last year, Mr McNamara was jailed for three days after being found in contempt of a court order requiring him to immediately cease work on the project.

Mr McNamara previously came to public attention when he drove a cement lorry emblazoned with the words “Anglo” and “toxic bank” at the gates of Leinster House. He was later acquitted of charges of criminal damage and dangerous driving in connection with that incident.


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