The Court of Appeal has upheld a decision that a €9 million residential drug rehabilitation center is linked to the Church of Scientology can move forward.
The Narconon Trust, which is behind the plan, requested judicial review after the board of directors decided in November 2018 that a change of use from a licensed nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation facility was not exempt from development.
Planning permission was granted in 2014 for a nursing home on the site of the former old Ballivor National School, but the nursing home was not built.
The site was acquired in 2016 by Narconon Trust, registered in Sussex, England, which is affiliated with the Church of Scientology and supports drug rehabilitation charities as part of its mission.
The trust was established by Massimo Angius, a trustee and director of the Church of Scientology in England for over 20 years. It has approximately 40 rehab facilities around the world and has spent approximately €9 million to date on the purchase and construction of the Ballivor facility.
It bought the site after getting a statement from Meath County Council in 2016 that the proposed change of use from a nursing home to a residential drug rehabilitation facility is exempt from development.
In February 2018, Ballivor Community Group (BCG) and Trim Municipal District Council (TMDC) requested statements from the Meath Council as to whether the proposed facility was exempt from development.
The municipality then referred the matter to An Bord Pleanála, who made the controversial decision in November 2018 that permission was needed.
In the High Court, the trust argued that the council should not make a decision on the referrals in circumstances where the county council had already made such a decision under the Planning Act and where there had been no change in the situation when the case went to court .
The council against which the case was brought denied those claims. BCG and TMDC were announcement parties.
The High Court upheld the trust’s arguments.
The High Court also approved an appeals question to the CoA as to whether it was beyond the board’s jurisdiction to determine a reference to the board in circumstances where a board previously asked the same or essentially the same question. and there had been no change in the planning facts.
The three-judge appeals court ruled on Wednesday that the board was not allowed to decide on a referral in those circumstances.
Madam Justice Caroline Costello, in the lead judgment, said the council had the power to receive the referral and begin its decision.
However, when it turned out that the question submitted was the same, or essentially the same without changing circumstances, the Board should have concluded that the referral by the BCG and TMDC amounted to an inadmissible attack on the Board’s decision in 2016.
This essentially amounted to questioning the validity of the council statement, contrary to the manner provided for in the Planning and Development Act 2000.
For the board to proceed with determining the referral on the merits, it amounted to facilitating a violation of Section 50(2) of that law and accordingly was beyond its control, she said.
The High Court correctly interpreted and applied the provisions of the 2000 Act to the facts of this case.
In a similar opinion, Mr Justice Maurice Collins agreed that the law did not allow the council to deal with the questions submitted to it. This necessarily raised doubts about the validity and effectiveness of the council’s decision that it was exempt, he said.
mr Justice Seamus Woulfe agreed with his colleagues.