ST Aidan’s National School has secured planning permission for an extension to the school. However, Clare County Council ruled a line of trees must be protected, following an objection from local residents.
The application was for an extension that would include a mainstream classroom, resource rooms and toilets. It also sought permission to redesign and extend the car-parking area, retain and relocate an existing portacabin and permission for another portacabin. It sought retention permission for a staffroom and store.
Linda and Ricky Collins of 19 Dún na Rí objected to the proposal and in their objection, they included a letter from Críona Horgan of the school’s board of management, which said it wanted to remove the trees.
“As a matter of courtesy, all parties would like to bring your attention to the fact that the existing line of trees (on the Carrig Lia side only), which act as a screen, will need to be removed as part of the build. At the moment, these trees are a contributing factor to anti-social behaviour in the area. In fact, there are at least three trees that have been burned and set alight in recent times. The board of management can find no advantage to keeping the trees but the disadvantages are numerable. If the trees are not removed, there is potential for anti-social behaviour to continue, the new build will be so close to the trees that there will be little/no light, moss, dampness will all be a factor.”
She also stated removing the trees would allow “more space to potentially develop a soft play area for junior classes and special needs children, allow light to enter the new build from all sides and minimises the risks associated with overhanging trees”.
Ms Horgan claimed some mitigation measures would be put in place. “It is proposed that once the new building is in place, a security fence will be erected around the building and hedging will be planted so as to minimise the aesthetic impact for nearby houses.”
In the objection, Mr and Ms Collins claimed the removal of the trees would damage the view from their home and reduce its value.
They also claimed the presence of the trees was part of the reason they had bought the house in the first place.
“A major part of the proposed extension is the removal of the existing line of trees on the Carrig Lia side. At present, said trees act as a natural visual boundary between St Aidan’s school and the neighbouring estates of Dún na Rí, Carrig Lia and Cluain Aoibheann and give a somewhat ‘country feel’ to the area, which is irreplaceable given that we reside in a town. The school itself, in a recent letter to a selective number of residents of all three estates, acknowledged that the trees act as a screen and it is our opinion that removal of said trees will do little to promote the aesthetic view that presently exists.
“We, the undersigned, bought no 19 Dún na Rí at the height of the building boom and paid €290,000 for it. A major influence on our decision to buy the house was in fact the view from the house and the green across the way. On recent valuation, our house is now worth somewhere between €150,000 and €200,000 due to the decline in property values. This is a significant drop in value and we feel that given the fact we look directly onto the proposed site for the extension, the removal of the trees will result in further devaluation of our home.”
They were scathing about the claim that removing the trees would help prevent anti-social behaviour, claiming the school were “grasping at straws in their justification for removing the trees”.
They criticised the level of engagement from the school, following the letter from Ms Horgan. “As you can see from the attached letter, the chairperson of the board of management of St Aidan’s school invited inquiries from the residents. However, upon enquiring, Ms Horgan informed my husband that she would not entertain any meeting with individual residents, that a meeting would only be facilitated upon a number of enquiries being made. As it happens, our direct neighbour in Cluain Aoibheann did ring Ms Horgan but received no reply. Although the school on the surface did appear to be willing to answer any questions on the basis of the letter, when it came to it they appeared to be reluctant.”
They said they were concerned about the playground proposed in Ms Horgan’s letter. “This is a major concern to us, as at present part of the site owned by school sits outside the boundary of the trees and is, in fact, half of the green area that our house, no 19 Dun na Rí, overlooks. By removing the trees and allowing for extension of the school, it is suggestive that further development could indeed go ahead at a future date on that green area, which would now be readily accessible by the school. This does not bode well for our family home.”
It claimed that as a ‘green school’ St Aidan’s should be doing everything possible to protect the trees, while they also claimed the development could have gone on a part of the schools site where there would not have been any issue.
In the planners’ report it stated the application didn’t necessitate the trees’ removal. “19 Dún na Rí is located approximately 85m to the south of the existing school. I note the comments made concerning removal of the existing mature trees on the eastern side of the school. I further note and acknowledge the important function these trees provide – visual barrier, aesthetic, acoustic, habitat etc. However, from my inspection of the site and assessment of the drawings submitted with the application, it does not appear that the trees are proposed for removal.” It stated there is a risk to them during construction and a condition should be attached to ensure their full preservation with no damage.
A condition attached to the decision to grant planning stated that the trees “be fully retained and shall not be damaged in any way during construction”.
It stated that prior to work starting, the trees would be “enclosed within stout fences not less than 1.5 metres in height. This protective fencing shall enclose an area covered by the crown spread of the branches or at a minimum a radius of two metres from the trunk of the tree and shall be maintained until the development has been completed.”