Newcastle House, Ballymahon.

'Overdevelopment' concern over Ballymahon holiday park proposal

A proposal for a second holiday park in Ballymahon, involving 99 mobile homes along with camping facilities, has been described by the council as representing a "significant overdevelopment" of the "historic" Newcastle House site.

A planning application for the development in Newcastle Woods, close to the Center Parcs holiday village, was lodged by Hau Yan Lee, c/o the Kinnegad-based MCK Consulting Engineers, in April of this year.

The proposal was for 99 mobile homes along with "an area for touring pitches and casual camping spaces," a reception hut, a playground and separate grass play area.

The planning application attracted a number of objections from residents living nearby, who expressed concerns in relation to traffic, noise, pollution, access to the site, and the possible detrimental impact on their enjoyment of their property.

A letter supporting the development was submitted by Sinn Féin TD Sorca Clarke, while other letters in support of the project were sent by businesses in Ballymahon, Athlone, and other local areas.

In its response to the developer, earlier this summer, Longford County Council outlined a number of concerns it had in relation to the development. It requested further information along with a "substantial" revision of the plans for the Newcastle House site, which is a protected structure.

"The proposed development is considered a significant overdevelopment of the remnant of an historic landscape which has been repeatedly broken up over the years," the local authority wrote.

"The proposed development now proposes to develop more of this historic landscape which will impact on the setting of this historical house. Having regard to the sensitive nature of the site, its architecturally protected status and the need to preserve same you are requested to submit a substantially reduced number of static units."

The council told the applicant the proposal had not "adequately addressed the potential environmental impacts" of the development or the need for a full Environmental Impact Assessment report.

It pointed out that the site was in close proximity to Center Parcs, which was currently preparing a planning application for an extension of its own facilities.

The council felt that "the combination of these various projects, including this current application, has not been properly considered by the applicant in relation to its potential environmental impacts."

It called for a screening report to be submitted in respect of a possible Environmental Impact Assessment. An archaeological impact assessment report would also be required in respect of the project, the applicant was told.

The council described the justification which had been submitted for the development as "vague at best" and said it indicated the overall site "has not been capable of fully functioning as a hotel since 2020."

It asked the applicant to supply a visual impact report on the development, along with a "more comprehensive explanation and justification as to why the hotel is not capable of functioning in the current economic environment."

The planning application attracted numerous submissions, several of which raised concerns about shared access to the proposed development site and possible impacts on privacy.

Letters in support of the project, which highlighted potential economic benefits, were issued by businesses including Bright Ideas and The Planet entertainment centre in Athlone, as well as some shops and service stations in Ballymahon.

Deputy Sorca Clarke said the development presented Longford with an opportunity "to build upon the ‘staycation’ family holiday model that was rediscovered to widespread success during recent years."

An Taisce, the National Trust, said the proposed 99 mobile homes would represent a "serious overdevelopment of the remaining historic demesne area" and would not be appropriate in the "historic walled garden."

The HSE also noted that no construction management plan appeared to have been submitted with the application.

One of the objections to the proposal, from Jack Stephenson, said it would be "naïve" to suggest that the proposed holiday park would be "similar to, or complementary to," Center Parcs.

"The latter is very self-contained and has its own attractions, while the Newcastle House proposal pretty much leaves its residents to their own devices," Mr Stephenson wrote.

"This would lead to more traffic movements on the L1121 and more movement in the woods, to the probable detriment of wildlife and the environment."

The council advised the applicant to address the concerns raised by local residents, "with regard to shared access to the proposed site, and privacy impacts."

The applicant has until mid-December to respond to the further information request.