The Catholic Church is facing a large tax bill next year after losing an appeal against the inclusion on the vacant sites register of lands it owns at Blackpool in Cork.
An Bord Pleanála has upheld the decision of Cork City Council to place the site known as Farranferris Grounds off Redemption Road and Lover’s Walk in Blackpool on the list of vacant sites in the city.
The decision will make the Cork Diocesan Trustees, the registered owners of the property, liable for an annual levy from next year that could run into thousands of euro.
The vacant site levy, currently 3% of the property’s value, is set to rise to 7% from January 1, 2020.
“It is considered that the majority of the site was a vacant site for the relevant period by reason of the unkempt and unused condition of these lands,” An Bord Pleanála ruled.
The site comprises much of the lands around a former school and seminary which is currently used as an adult training centre and a primary school, Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers.
In reaching its decision An Bord Pleanála said it had considered that the council has established there is a need for housing in the area.
The board said the Farranferris Grounds are suitable for housing as the area is zoned for residential development and the site has planning permission for a mixed-use development including 90 housing units.
Church authorities argued that the site is not suitable for housing because a freehold interest could not be acquired over the entire holding.
They said that has delayed the construction of any housing on the site but the title is now in order.
Cork Diocesan Trustees rejected the claim the site was vacant and claimed is is used as a school and educational resource for adults and children, while much of the property is given over to vegetable gardens.
They claimed the site is also unsuitable for housing because it is not served by public infrastructure.
The trustees said they have also taken administrative steps to develop the lands by obtaining planning permission in 2011 and engaging with the council about removing infrastructural obstacles.
The council said the area in use for a school and training centre are not considered part of the vacant site.
An inspector with An Bord Pleanála recommended the site is suitable for housing as it has planning permission which would not have been granted if the lands could not be adequately serviced.
While the Church authorities claim all the lands are in constant use as play areas, the inspector said a considerable part of the site “seems to perform no practical use”.