Folk singer Colum Sands loses legal challenge to nursing home plans

Folk singer Colum Sands, right, with his son Dara outside the High Court in Belfast.''Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Folk singer Colum Sands, right, with his son Dara outside the High Court in Belfast.''Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Folk singer Colum Sands has lost his legal challenge to approval being given for a new nursing home on the shores of Carlingford Lough.

Mr Sands fronted the case taken against Newry Mourne and Down District Council’s decision to grant planning permission for the 70-bed facility within an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Backed by other activists, he claimed the development could impact on ancient oaks at Rostrevor Wood in Co Down.

But a High Court judge rejected arguments that the green light was given without properly considering potential harm to surrounding conservation areas.

Mr Justice McCloskey held: “Contrary to the applicant’s assertion, the Planning Committee members did engage with the issues of design, scale, mass, quality, setting and surrounds and impact on the environment.”

Mr Sands, who lives close to the development site, sought a judicial review on behalf of the group Rostrevor Action Respecting the Environment (RARE).

Proceedings centred on plans to build the nursing home, together with 41 apartments, landscaping and car parking, at the location where a hotel once stood.

According to RARE it will be situated adjacent to Carlingford Lough and Rostrevor Wood - both of which have protected status and been designated as areas of special scientific interest.

The group fears construction work and an increase in traffic will put the forest’s ancient oak trees at risk.

Despite a planning official recommending the scheme be refused, the council decided to give the go-ahead last year.

It followed an independent assessment which found no risk to the forest.

But counsel for Mr Sands claimed the process was legally flawed.

He alleged non-compliance with habitats regulations, along with breaches of planning and environment legislation, a failure to provide adequate reasons, and claimed the decision was irrational.

Putting so much development close to a specially designated area gives rise to legal and policy consequences which were not recognised by the developer and not fully recognised by the council, it was contended.

However, the judge ruled against all grounds of challenge.

Dismissing the case, Mr Justice McCloskey concluded that Mr Sands failed to support claims that planning committee members made the decision without addressing concerns raised in the case officer’s report.

“Having considered all the evidence in the round I find no indications of the irrationality asserted,” he added.

“On the contrary, the key extract from the minutes of the planning committee meeting when the impugned decision was unanimously made is strongly suggestive of careful consideration and appropriate attention on the part of the decision makers: the antithesis of the irrational.”