RELIGION: Dublin archdiocese urges rezoning church sites to allow house building

Properties listed in 130-page submission include 33 churches

Arthur Beesley in The Irish Times

The Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin has urged Dublin City Council to assign dozens of church sites in the city for zoning that would allow homes be built on them.

The archdiocese insists there are no current proposals to change the use of any churches other than previously published plans for lands at Finglas West.

But a legal planning submission makes it clear that the church wants to retain freedom of manoeuvre to develop housing on some sites in the future.

The properties listed in a 130-page submission from the archdiocese include 33 churches in areas such as Artane, Ballymun, Beaumont, Cabra, Griffith Avenue, Drimnagh, Navan Road, Raheny, Walkinstown, Terenure, Harrington Street, Church Street and James’ Street.

The council has said it wants to tighten the zoning rules governing such sites to preclude any housing or office developments in all but “highly exceptional” circumstances.

A paper produced for the church by planning consultants Brock McClure says the zoning should be altered because the council’s move “unfairly inhibits any development options our clients wish to pursue, should the timing be right to rationalise some of the uses at certain locations”.

“Many of the subject sites are located in disadvantaged areas where the delivery of housing is taking priority over additional institutional land uses,” they said, adding that it was “difficult” to provide details on short, medium, and long-term intentions of the Dublin diocese with respect to its sites.

“However, it is clear that certain uses will, in the short and medium term, be no longer required, and certain buildings will no longer be fit for purpose. When this is juxtaposed against an express objective and desire by the Dublin diocese to assist in the provision of social and affordable housing across the city, a barrier to achieving this is potentially formulated in the context of the city development plan.”

Íde Finnegan, the archdiocese’s head of operations, said the request to change the zoning did not mean that the church was working on plans to build housing on the sites.

“There are no plans for any change of use, other than Finglas West,” she said in response to questions.

Referring to the sites listed in the submission, Ms Finnegan said all were included because they had the zoning that was subject to the restrictions proposed by the council. “There are no particular plans in respect of any of those sites.”

Church-owned schools

The archdiocese also listed numerous church-owned schools in Dublin, saying the submission was “applicable to these also” and asked the council to consider an “alternative zoning” across the sites.

“These sites don’t have any long-term capacity issues, and don’t envisage a need for expansion of same in the long term. They are also not on any Department of Education Schools programme lists.”

Asked about the inclusion of schools, Ms Finnegan said the statement that there were no particular plans “applies to the schools as well”.

The archdiocese submitted a legal opinion by solicitors Mason Hayes & Curran saying a proposed zoning change was an unlawful interference in religious and property rights because it would prevent housing being developed.

“Overall, the changes will make it significantly more difficult to obtain planning permission for residential development,” said the lawyers.

“There are many reasons why our client may need to obtain planning permission for residential uses on its land, and these proposed changes will make it very difficult to achieve. As such they are particularly discriminatory against our client, and will only serve to hinder the religious institutions they intended to protect.

“For the reasons set out in this letter, the proposed changes are unlawful insofar as they affect religious institutions such as our client.”

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