The High Court has quashed a refusal of planning permission to an organic farmer to build a home on his small holding in Co Wicklow.
Mr Justice Max Barrett ordered An Bord Pleanála to reconsider Alun Owen's application for the house at his Easthill Organic Farm near Newtownmountkennedy.
Mr Owens and his parents bought 4.1 acres back in 2008, and he farms 1.5 acres of them. He also rents 2.72 acres next to his land and has about 6.82 acres available to him.
Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, considers the land he farms to be sufficient for a viable organic farm.
Teagasc has also confirmed that it is essential for Mr Owens to be close to the farm to facilitate 24-hour monitoring of his plants, his plastic tunnels, his equipment, and to guard against trespassers. He currently lives in rented accommodation with his wife and young family.
Mr Owens says the farm is his livelihood involving "hard work, and long hours from early morning until late evening. But it is work I enjoy and want to continue to do".
Wicklow Co Council granted permission previously for a house on the site. Its director of services accepted the organic farm was a viable enterprise and not simply an excuse to secure planning permission.
That was subject to a third-party appeal to An Bord Pleanála which in September 2019 refused permission. The board said it would be contrary to the "Sustainable Rural Guidelines for Local Authorities".
It also said given the small size of the farming plot and the subsequent significant reduction in the area left for farming purposes if the house was built, it was considered that it would set a precedent and adversely affect the balanced, orderly development of rural areas in the vicinity of Newtownmountkennedy.
Mr Owens lodged another application for a house on a smaller site in an effort to address the board's concerns. Teagasc again supported him.
This time the council refused permission. Mr Owens appealed and again the board, for much the same reasons as previously, refused permission.
High Court challenge
He brought a High Court challenge against the board with the council as notice party. He claimed, among other things, the board's decision was irrational and outside its powers. The board opposed the challenge.
Mr Justice Barrett ruled the board breached its statutory duty under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to state the main reasons and considerations on which the decision was based.
The apparent setting of a quantitative threshold for viability of the farm in the face of the evidence as to viability, in the specific context of organic farming, was irrational, he said.