Council illegally reduced levy after Fine Gael minister’s intervention

After Fine Gael junior minister Patrick O’Donovan intervened in a planning case – eight months after permission had been granted – Limerick City and County Council illegally reduced a development contribution levy by more than €140,000.

The council earlier this year threatened The Ditch with legal action after the publication’s report that the local authority illegally dropped another development contribution levy following repeated representations from minister of state Niall Collins. 

Gaeltacht minister Patrick O’Donovan has refused to address questions concerning the illegal decision. The council maintains the decision was correct. 

An intervention. A €140,000 saving

KCS Logistics & Storage Ltd (KCS) in March 2020 applied to Limerick City and County Council for permission to build a 75,000 square foot cold storage facility in Newcastlewest.

The local authority granted permission for the development in early October 2020 and imposed several standard conditions.

One of these conditions required the applicant to pay a contribution levy of €280,320 in accordance with the council’s “development contribution scheme made under Section 48 of the Planning and Development Act 2001”.

KCS didn’t appeal the levy to An Bord Pleanála. 

Just three weeks after the decision, on 22 October, 2020, KCS applied to the council’s Local Enterprise Office for a grant for the development that had already been given the go-ahead. 

On 20 November its application was approved and it was awarded a €15,000 grant. This grant would eventually save the company €140,000.

More than eight months after the council had ruled on the planning application, junior minister for public works Patrick O’Donovan intervened on behalf of the company.

O’Donovan sought a reduction of the development contribution levy on the basis that the company’s grant had been approved.

Under the council’s 2017-2021 development contribution scheme, grant-aided planning permission applicants could avail of a 50 percent discount on their levy – but only at the time they submitted their applications.

The scheme was drafted with clear regard to the Planning and Development Act 2001, which does not empower a local authority to amend an already decided contribution levy.

The legislation and guidelines however did not deter the council who accepted O’Donovan’s June 2021 representation and illegally changed their October 2020 decision. 

“Dear Minister, I refer to your email below in connection with development contributions due in respect of planning reference 20/219 (KCS Logistics and Storage Ltd.),” opened an email from the council.

“Further to confirmation received from Donogh O'Donoghue, senior executive planner, this development is grant aided by the Local Enterprise Office and therefore, as per section 9 of the Development Contribution Scheme 2017-2021, a 50 percent reduction in contributions can be applied. The amended development contributions are €140,160,” confirmed the email dated 20 July, 2021.

Hours later, O’Donovan’s secretarial assistant wrote to KCS director John Cunningham informing him of the good news, according to a copy of the email contained in the planning file.

“John, please find correspondence below… in response to Patrick’s representations on the matter concerning your planning contribution,” wrote the secretarial assistant in an email sent less than two hours after the council’s email to O’Donovan.

The council has not responded to The Ditch’s request for a copy of the initial email it received from O’Donovan in June 2021. This appears to be the only communication missing from the planning file. 

This isn’t the first time Limerick City and County Council reduced a levy after a government minister’s intervention. 

In March this year The Ditch reported the council in November 2020 dropped a €10,850 levy imposed on a Limerick publican following repeated requests from junior minister Niall Collins.

Just days before the story about Collins’s intervention was published, a council spokesperson was asked if a contribution levy could be changed. She correctly replied, “If it’s within the appeal period the applicant should appeal the condition/contribution to An Bord Pleanala.”

After publication of the Collins story, the council changed its position and sent a solicitor’s letter threatening The Ditch with legal action if the article wasn’t removed. The Ditch refused to delete the article and responded to the letter. No further correspondence was received from the council or its solicitors despite their threat of legal action. 

The council told The Ditch the levy was reduced legally. 

“Limerick City and County Council did not illegally reduce the contribution. The contribution was applied in accordance with the Development Contribution Scheme 2017-2021,” said a spokesperson, adding it was reduced “following receipt of appropriate documentation from the applicant”.

O’Donovan declined to comment. 

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors