October 6, 2022

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The environment and wildlife of south Dublin’s greenbelt is under threat from large-scale “urban-style” apartment developments, local residents and councillors say, following the upgrade of a rural road at the foot of the Dublin mountains.

Concerns have been raised by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Greens, Labour and Independent councillors over the extent of construction encroachment into wildlife territories and sensitive habitats south of Blackglen Road to the west of Sandyford.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council last September began a major improvement scheme on the road. The work, which will include the installation of footpaths, cycle tracks and lighting, is set to continue into next year.

The inadequacy of the narrow single carriageway road had been cited by An Bord Pleanála in the refusal of a number of housing schemes in recent years. Senior planner with the county council Ger Ryan said the road improvements would likely encourage development applications.

“Around Blackglen Road for a long time permissions were refused because of the lack of appropriate roadways. It was boreen until a matter of weeks ago,” he told a recent local council meeting.

“I don’t think it would be a misrepresentation to say developers have been keeping an eye on the road scheme, and now that the road scheme has advanced they are looking to make applications based on that. With that and the closing of the opportunity around the SHDs I think it’s fair to say there is that timing issue at play.”

An application has already been submitted to An Bord Pleanála for a Strategic Housing Development (SHD) of just over 100 apartments and houses on the road, with a neighbouring SHD scheme of 400 apartments due to the submitted to the board this month.

Under the “fast-track” SHD process, which is being phased out, applications for large schemes were made directly to An Bord Pleanála, bypassing the local authority planning system.

Heronbrook Properties has sought permission for 32 houses and 69 apartments in blocks up to four storeys tall on a site south of Blackglen Road, with An Bord Pleanála expected to issue a planning decision in the coming weeks.

However, an even larger development of 400 apartments in blocks up to eight storeys has been earmarked for a site west of the Heronbrook lands. Zolbury ltd has held pre-application consultations with the planning board, and planners acting on the company’s behalf said an application is expected to be submitted by the end of this month, which will make the scheme among the last applications lodged under the SHD processes.

The council has zoned both sites as residential, and there are several one-off detached houses already located on Blackglen Road. However, the sites are also in the Barnacullia Landscape Character Area (LCA). The LCA designation, which arose out of the 2000 European Landscape Convention, is applied to the rural parts of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and is designed to protect their unique geographical qualities.

Under the Barnacullia LCA “any new residential development shall maintain the rural character of the area and should not be obtrusive on the horizon”.

Local residents and councillors have raised concerns about the scale of proposed developments, claiming their high density and “urban” style is in conflict with the LCA, as well as other environmental protections for the area.

“For 20 years south of the Blackglen Road has been described by the local authority as rural,” resident Kevin Cullen said. “To some degree if the land was not described as a landscape character area, and was not protected by national and EU legislation, there is simply no argument not to let the city expand into the countryside as we’ve done for the last 50 years. But that isn’t the case. They did put a limit on the edge of the city, they put it on the Blackglen Road.”

Mr Cullen said he could not see how the Heronbrook development married with the LCA stipulation that new housing should maintain the “rural character” of the area. “Permitting this development would set a precedent that the landscape character area has no meaning. That’s why the effort is here, to not stop to the Heronbrook site being developed – it is going to get developed – but to get it developed in lines with the rules. Either we have rules or we don’t, and it’s as simple as that.”

He said if the Zolbury scheme went ahead as outlined in the pre-application consultations, the elevation of the site meant the estate would have “the highest apartment blocks in Ireland”.

Labour councillor Lettie McCarthy said in addition to the LCA designation the sites were located in a “wildlife corridor” which runs from Three Rock Mountain, south of the Blue Light pub, to Fitzsimon’s Wood.

“Our biodiversity plan identifies a wildlife corridor linking Fitzsimon’s Wood and the Barnacullia LCA and the Dublin mountains. We have so many deer and other wildlife that become trapped in areas because we grant planning permission in what are their territories. What is planned for these sites would wipe out that wildlife corridor.”

Ms McCarthy said she accepted the Blackglen Road improvements would result in a greater level of development, but she said schemes needed to be appropriate to the area. “Everyone realised Blackglen Road needed to be upgraded and that would open up land for development, but the SHDs proposed for these sites are town centre-style developments and not suited to a rural area.”

A landscape report submitted by Heronbrook as part of its application said the scheme aimed to “create a network of attractive and usable open spaces while contributing to local biodiversity”.

The development would be “in keeping with the character and scale of the surrounding properties, and it is considered that the development will be respectful to its setting,” representatives of Heronbrook said.

While the details of the Zolbury application are not available ahead of the submission of the SHD scheme, in pre-application consultations with the planning board developers said the scheme was appropriate for the site and planting would offset any visual impact.

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