Narconon Trust v an Bord Pleanála

JudgeMs. Justice Costello,Mr Justice Maurice Collins
Judgment Date17 November 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] IECA 307
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
Docket NumberCourt of Appeal Record Number 2020/233
Narconon Trust
An Bord Pleanála


Meath County Council
First Notice Party


Ballivor Community Group
Second Notice Party


Trim Municipal District Council
Third Notice Party

[2021] IECA 307

Woulfe J.

Costello J.

Collins J.

Court of Appeal Record Number 2020/233


Planning and development – Referral – Order of certiorari – Appellant appealing against the judgment of the High Court granting an order of certiorari quashing two decisions of the appellant made pursuant to s. 5 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 – Whether the appellant was precluded from determining a Planning and Development Act 2000 s. 5 referral in the circumstances

Facts: The respondent/appellant, An Bord Pleanála (the Board), appealed to the Court of Appeal against the judgment of the High Court (Heslin J) dated 24 January 2020 granting an order of certiorari quashing two decisions of the Board made on 19 November 2018, pursuant to s. 5 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, whereby the Board decided that the change of use from a nursing home development to a residential drug rehabilitation facility is development and is not exempted development. On 31 July 2020, a certificate for leave to appeal, pursuant to s. 50A(7) of the 2000 Act, was granted on the following point of law: “Is it ultra vires the Board to determine a section 5 referral in circumstances where a planning authority has previously determined the same or substantially the same question in respect of the same land where there is no evidence that there has been a change in the planning facts and circumstances since the planning authority’s determination?”

Held by Costello J that the Board was precluded from determining a s. 5 referral in circumstances where a planning authority had previously determined the same, or substantially the same, question in respect of the same land where there was no evidence that there had been a change in the planning facts and circumstances since the planning authority’s determination. She held that it had jurisdiction to receive the referral and to commence its determination. She held that once it became apparent that the question referred was the same, or substantially the same, and in respect of the same land, and that there was no evidence of any change in the planning facts or circumstances, it ought to have concluded that: the referral by the notice parties amounted to an impermissible attack on the 2016 declaration, which, in substance, amounted to questioning the validity of the s. 5 declaration other than by way of s. 50; that such a challenge is prohibited by s. 50(2); and that for the Board to proceed further to determine the referral on the merits amounted to facilitating a breach of s. 50(2) and was, accordingly, ultra vires. She held that the trial judge correctly interpreted ss. 5 and 50(2) of the 2000 Act and applied the provisions to the facts in the case. She held that he was correct to quash the decision of the Board of November 2018 for the reasons he set out in his judgment.

Costello J held that the appeal would be dismissed. As the applicant/respondent, Narconon Trust, had succeeded on the appeal, her provisional view was that Narconon Trust was entitled to the costs.

Appeal dismissed.

No redactions needed

JUDGMENT of Mr Justice Maurice Collins delivered on 17 November 2021


I agree with Costello J that this appeal should be dismissed. I agree with her that, in the circumstances here, section 50(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) (the “ PDA”) precluded An Bord Pleanála (“ ABP”) from entertaining the questions referred to it under section 5 PDA. Doing so necessarily involved questioning the validity and effectiveness of the section 5 declaration issued by Meath County Council in September 2016 and the decisions made by ABP in November 2018 effectively negated that earlier declaration. That is not permissible having regard to the provisions of section 50(2) PDA.


I reach this conclusion with some regret. These proceedings highlight significant deficiencies in the section 5 procedure. A request for a declaration was made by Narconon, with the consent of the relevant landowners. Even if the landowners had a right to be heard – and section 5 is silent on that point – it was in their interest that the application should succeed. No public notice of the request was required under section 4 and no other party had any entitlement to participate in the process. Meath County Council duly issued the declaration sought. That declaration has significant legal effects: see, for instance, the decision of this Court in Kilross Properties Ltd v Electricity Supply Board [2016] IECA 207, [2016] 1 IR 541, as well as the decision of the Supreme Court in Michael Cronin (Readymix) Ltd v. An Bord Pleanála [2017] 2 IR 658. The declaration effectively precludes any party from maintaining that the change of user from nursing home to residential drug rehabilitation facility at the former old National School Site, Ballivor, Co. Meath constituted development for which planning permission was required. An application for planning permission would, of course, have allowed for public participation.


To this it may be said that the issue before the planning authority here was a narrow and technical one, not involving any form of contestable planning assessment. The only question before Meath County Council was whether or not the proposed change of use came within Class 9 of Schedule 2 Part 4 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (SI 600/2000) (“the Planning Regulations”) and, so it may be said, the task of the Council was simply to interpret and apply the relevant provisions of the Regulations. If the change of use fell within Class 9, it was exempted development; if it did not, then planning permission would be required. That may be correct as far as it goes. However, it is a striking feature of the proceedings here that Meath County Council and ABP reached contrary conclusions even on this supposedly straightforward issue.


Furthermore, in addition to issues as to what is “ exempted development” the section 5 procedure encompasses determinations as to what, in any particular case, is or is not “ development.” As the law reports demonstrate, complex and difficult issues frequently arise as to what constitutes “ development” for the purposes of the PDA, particularly in relation to what constitutes a “material change of use”: see generally the discussion in Browne, Simons on Planning Law (3rd ed; 2021), chapter 2. The decision of the High Court (Laffoy J) in Glancre Teoranta v Cafferkey (No 2) [2004] IEHC 71, [2004] 4 IR 22 – itself an appeal from a decision made by ABP on a section 5 reference 1 – provides an illustration of the complexities that may arise in this context.


The terms of section 5 themselves indicate that complex questions may fall to be determined by planning authorities and ABP under the section. Planning authorities (though not ABP) are subject to a general obligation to issue a declaration within 4 weeks of the request. However, section 5(2)(ba) PDA (inserted by the European Union (Planning and Development) (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2018 (SI 296/2018) (“ the 2018 Regulations”) permits a planning authority to extend the time for determining an application where a decision within that period would not be possible or appropriate “because of the exceptional circumstances of the development or proposed development (including in relation to the nature, complexity, location or size of such development)”. The section also contemplates – indeed requires – that in certain circumstances, 2 a planning authority or the Board shall specify whether the development or proposed development the subject of the request “would be likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue, at the least, of the nature, size or location of such development and require an environmental impact assessment”: section 5(7A) (also inserted by the 2018 Regulations). Obviously, such a decision may have broad implications.


Some steps have been taken to improve the transparency of the section 5 process. Section 5(7B) PDA (inserted by the 2018 Regulations) now provides that where a planning authority issues a declaration, or ABP makes a decision on a referral, the relevant documents (including a copy of the declaration of the planning authority or the decision of ABP, as the case may be) must be published on their website within 3 working days and made available for inspection for a period of at least 8 weeks. That is in addition to the requirement in section 5(5) that the details of any declaration issued by a planning authority or of a decision by the Board on a referral be entered in the planning register. However, in circumstances where no public notice of the making of a request or referral is required, persons potentially affected by a declaration or decision may not have any reason to monitor the websites of the planning authority or ABP or to inspect their files or to examine the planning register. Furthermore, and in any event, these provisions of section 5 do not alter the fact that the section 5 process itself does not permit of any form of public participation, at least where (as here) the request for a declaration or referral is made by the person who has carried out the development, or who intends to carry out the proposed development, the subject of the request.


In such circumstances – and they are the circumstances here – a declaration or decision having potentially significant legal effects may issue without any opposing voice or contrary argument being heard. Even where a member of the public immediately becomes aware of the issuing of a section 5 declaration by a planning authority and wishes to...

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4 cases
  • Krikke v Barranafaddock Sustainable Electricity Ltd
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    ...on this decision. In any event, it would seem based on a recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Norcanon Trust v. An Bord Pleanála [2021] IECA 307 that the Council probably would not have had a jurisdiction to entertain any fresh s. 5 application absent new circumstances. To that extent ......
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    ...the like.” 69 . The dicta of Clarke C.J. in the Sweetman case were endorsed by the Court of Appeal in Narconon Trust v. An Bord Pleanála [2021] IECA 307; see in particular paras. 45–47 of the judgment of Costello 70 . Of particular relevance to the circumstances of this case is the decision......
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    ...C.J. in Grianán an Aileach v Donegal County Council [2004] 2 IR 625. Very recently, Collins J. in Narconon Trust v. An Bord Pleanála [2021] IECA 307 (at para. 7) observed that “the scope for challenging the merits of the decision of the planning authority or [the Board], as the case may be ......
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    ...line of authority from Goonery v. Meath County Council [1999] IEHC 15 through to ( Narconon Trust v. An Bord Pleanala 2020 IEHC 25 and 2021 IECA 307). I found that this was a clear case where a grant of relief would run contrary to all of the requirements of finality of decisions in plannin......

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