February 7th, 2019
An Bord Pleanála has refused permission for a hospice in Co Galway as it would have impacted on a meadow and urban woodland with significant biodiversity value.
Permission for the 36-bed hospice on a 6.7-hectare site along the eastern edge of Galway City was initially granted by Galway City Council in August 2018.
The decision was appealed by several organizations, including An Taisce and the local campaign group Friends of Merlin Woods over conservation concerns for various plant and animal species, including the red squirrel.
The appeals also raised concerns over zoning issues and previously rejected developments on the grounds of Merlin Hospital where the hospice would be located.
In its decision released this week, the Board said that the proposed site for the hospice would be in an area zoned for natural heritage, and as such is not a permitted use in this “green open space network for the city”.
The Merlin Woods site is listed as a protected habitat of particular conservation concern under the EU Habitats Directive.
As such, the Board said that the proposed permanent removal of 0.68 hectares of the habitat for the development would materially contravene the Galway City Development Plan.
“The proposed development would, therefore, be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area,” the Board’s order states.
The Board went against the recommendation of its inspector who recommended that planning permission should be granted so long as certain conditions to protect and create suitable habitat for the preservation and protection of biodiversity were followed.
The biodiversity plan for the hospice included a lowland hay meadow management plan along with the installation of 10 bat boxes and bird boxes.
Not a time of celebration
Despite the Board’s decision, Caroline Stanley of Friends of Merlin Woods said that no one is celebrating it as a victory “because of what has been lost and need not have been”.
“It is with deep regret that members of the local community were put into a position that had no option but to defend a place which is highly valued… as the east of the city grows in population density,” she said.
The group’s campaign was never against the hospice, Ms Stanley said, with the groups outlining to the Council that 84 acres were available for alternative sites.
Finding a better location “would have enabled the community to work together as opposed to create division,” she added.
“From here we now need to see how we can get that protection needed for the European sites within Merlin Woods and its habitats,” she said.
“This result may also benefit other communities who are trying to protect special areas within their communities.”
By Kayle Crosson
Kayle is a multimedia journalist with an interest in energy and agriculture policy and its interaction with the environment