Council illegally changed planning decision following Niall Collins intervention, quashed €10,000 levy

Following interventions from junior minister Niall Collins in an already decided planning application, Limerick City and County Council illegally dropped a €10,000 development levy it had imposed on the applicant.

Internal email communications show the local authority dropped the levy condition after it was contacted at least twice by Collins more than two months after it ruled on the planning application. In one email a council official asked for urgency from a colleague as she expected Collins to be in contact.

Last week The Ditch reported that Collins misled the Dáil when addressing allegations that he lied on a 2001 planning application.

‘I expect Niall Collins will be on to one of us’

Limerick publican Denis Collins on 12 May, 2020 applied to Limerick City and County Council to convert flats above his pub to guesthouse accommodation.

Less than two weeks later, in a letter dated 25 May, 2020, Denis Collins notified the council that he “wished to nominate Niall Collins TD to the above application”.

The council granted Dennis Collins permission for the development at Punch’s Pub in Patrickswell on 20 August, 2020.

The council imposed seven conditions. The Limerick pub owner did not appeal any of the conditions to An Bord Pleanála – as is legally required if he were unhappy with any.

One condition required Denis Collins to pay a development contribution levy of €10,850.

More than two months after the ruling Niall Collins, a minister of state for the four months previous, intervened.

According to internal email correspondence seen by The Ditch, Niall Collins contacted the council on behalf of Denis Collins in November 2020.

He asked the council to review the decision to impose the contribution levy.

“Can you give me a quick call… Niall Collins has been enquiring again re contributions,” wrote planning department employee Helen Keane in an email to executive planner Darragh Ryan dated 3 November, 2020.

Ryan is the planner who had imposed the development contribution levy on Denis Collin

Keane again contacted Ryan two weeks later to draw attention to Niall Collins’s intervention.

“Darragh can you give me a call re below… Niall Collins has enquired about it. Are contributions due on guest accommodation above pub? Contributions were paid (in 2002)... (but) it looks as though the residential element was not charged,” wrote Keane in her November 16, 2020 email to Ryan.

On December 10, 2020 Keane again emailed Ryan and reminded him that she had “left (the) file with” him on the previous Monday.

Keane encouraged urgency on Ryan’s part because she expected further correspondence from Niall Collins.

“Let me know what you think as I expect Niall Collins will be on to one of us any day now,” she wrote.

Five days later Ryan decided to change his decision – despite having no legal basis to do so under planning legislation.

“I had a look at the file, I note contributions were charged at a commercial rate as part of (the 2002) application for the entire building. I do not believe contributions should now be levied for (the) granted application,” wrote Ryan in an email to Keane sent on December 15, 2020.

Minutes later, Keane emailed council staff member Christine Hennessy and told her to set the development contribution “to €0” and to inform Denis Collins's planning agent.

Earlier this month The Ditch sent an email to the council’s planning department under the guise of an applicant who had been hit with a development contribution levy.

“Is it possible for a planner to revise a section 48 development contribution condition he has imposed if I seek a formal review?” asked The Ditch using a pseudonym.

“If it’s within the appeal period the applicant should appeal the condition/contribution to An Bord Pleanala,” confirmed LCC’s planning section in an email sent five days later.

Niall Collins declined to comment.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors