From above: School campus on the right, narrow piece of land on the left Picture: Google Maps
Two Laois school principals have strongly objected to plans to build new houses in Portlaoise.
They say the land at the Borris Road is needed for the future expansion of both St Mary's CBS and Scoil Chríost Rí schools which are already at capacity.
The principal of St Mary’s CBS, Maura Murphy, made a written submission against the proposed plans by Graham Developments to build 23 houses on the Borris Road in Portlaoise, stating that given the amount of traffic on the Borris Road she is ‘surprised that this housing development is still being considered’.
“According to many local planners, there is adequate land zoned for that type of development in the Portlaoise area - that is not beside two schools with a combined population of almost 1,900 students. It would seem folly to remove this ‘green area’ from the possible expansion of the education campus adjacent in future years.
“Although there are many new schools in Portlaoise, we are all aware how quickly the new primary schools have filled up. Our two secondary schools on the Borris Road, adjacent to this referenced land parcel, have reached their capacity, in spite of a new secondary school having opened in the town less than two years ago,” Ms Murphy outlined in a written submission.
Principal of Scoil Chríost Rí, Helen O’Donnell, made a submission asking the planning authority not to allow the housing development to go ahead.
“The Board of Management at Scoil Chríost Rí believes that this land will be needed for further education requirements. The school is at maximum capacity and as in the recent census, the population is increasing rapidly. This is the only piece of land that can be used for any future extension/requirements for our school,” she said.
Cllr Catherine Fitzgerlad has also made a submission against the housing development.
“It is unthinkable that this land is being considered for housing. I believe that this planning is certainly not in the best interest of the community of Portlaoise and its environs,” she said.
A plan by Graham Developments to build 43 houses beside the schools was refused in 2017 on the basis that it was ‘partially on’ land zoned for educational use.
Laois County Council's Planning Authority recommended that the entire site beside Portlaoise secondary school campus on the Borris Road should be zoned for educational purposes in the future.
The land, which is owned by Graham Developments was divided into two parts in terms of zoning in the 2012- 2018 Portlaoise Local Area Plan.
One part was zoned as ‘Residential 1’ which protects the land for possible housing developments and the part nearest to the school was zoned for possible future school development.
In 2018, the planning authority recommended that the entire piece of land should be zoned for the school’s future. Graham Developments strongly objected to this and made a case that the land should be partially zoned for new houses to be built in the prime location next to the school.
The Planning Authority took this submission on board and prepared a Chief Executive’s Report which recommended that the land is zoned partially for new houses to be built and the remainder of the land be retained for education.
This CEO report was presented to the elected representatives of Laois County Council who accepted this recommendation.
In the final published Portlaoise Local Area Plan for 2018 - 2024 the land was zoned partially for new housing to be built and partially for educational development.
In May, 2018 Graham Developments sought planning permission to build 23 new houses on the land that is now zoned for housing. The decision on zoning did not come before the council until July 2018 and the new zoning was not adopted until October 2018.
Laois County Council's planning authority has delayed its response to the request for plans and sought further information including road design and safety, lighting, trees, garden sizes and noise levels.
In its request for further information, the council said Irish Rail has raised concerns about the boundary lines and a culvert behind one planned house.
See a picture of the proposed site layout below.
Graham Developments made a strong objection against all of their land beside the Borris Road school campus being zoned for educational purposes when this was suggested by the council.
Planning authorities in Laois County Council recommended that the land should be zoned for the school's future expansion but Graham Developments put a stop to this when it submitted reasons why the land should be zoned to allow them to build 23 houses on part of the site.
In its written submission to the Portlaoise Local Area Plan 2018 - 2024 Graham Developments stated 11 different reasons why the land should be zoned in their favour - partially residential and partially educational.
Some of the reasons outlined included that the site was in an area where there is a need for housing and the narrow physical shape of the site suited individual housing opposed to ‘large floor plate development’.
Graham Developments pointed out that there is an existing buffer of undeveloped-zoned Community, Educational and Institutional land between the existing schools and the site for the new houses.
It noted that the existing school campus has not expanded since the acquisition of land in 2003 and there are no current pending planning applications.
Graham Developments also stated: “We can confirm that the Department of Education has not suggested any expansion of their existing campus onto our lands and have indicated their preference for the provision of a new school on the west side of Portlaoise.”
The well-known housing developers which has a base at James Fintan Lalor Avenue, Portlaoise stated its ‘strong objection’ to the zoning of the entire site for educational development in the local area plan.
This objection was taken on board by the planning authority and written into the draft Chief Executive’s Report where it did not receive any objections before the council. This paved the way for houses to go ahead on the site.
The plan to build 23 houses is currently with the planning authority which has extended the deadline and requested further information. Graham is currently working on providing details sought by the planning authority.