But it was far from fiction and at stake was Ireland’s most popular TV show Fair City.
What began as an inconspicuous letter from the German Embassy, developed into a row that could have stopped the cameras rolling on the streets of Carrigstown, much to the disappointment of the show’s nightly 500,000 viewers.
In a strongly worded letter to RTÉ, the embassy accused the national broadcaster of flouting planning laws regarding the location of the outdoor set of the soap which backs onto the residence of the German ambassador — Busso von Alvensleben — at Seaview Terrace in Donnybrook.
In a submission to city planners last July in response to an application for planning retention, the embassy’s consultants said:
* The family living there is subjected to the noise of carpenters working on the film set at all hours of day and night.
* They have been awoken at night by hammering at the other side of the wall to their home.
* Gardaí had to be called over complaints about noise from a building crew in the early hours of April 14 last year.
An RTÉ spokesperson told the Irish Examiner this was an isolated and regrettable incident for which RTÉ has apologised.
A separate submission from the embassy’s solicitors claimed RTÉ had disregarded the planning laws in respect of the set for years, and also raised security concerns.
“The current film set is clearly visible from the main parking bay at our client’s property and to the everyday door into the main house where ambassadors and their families reside,” wrote Duncan Grehan & Partners.
“The guests of the ambassador, whether at official functions or private parties, will at all times be within earshot and eyesight of the film set which therefore presents an unacceptable overview to our client’s property and the persons coming and going to it from time to time and therefore it is also an unacceptable security risk,” it said.
RTÉ applied last June to retain nine timber-framed structures depicting the fictional Carrigstown streetscape and landmark buildings such as McCoy’s pub, the bistro, Phelan’s shop and others well-known to the show’s fans.
Most of the outdoor sets are only facades with the undecorated structural supports behind them unseen by viewers. Some have been in use since 1992 under a number of previous temporary planning permissions but the most recent of those had expired in July 2005.
The external production set is normally used for shooting the drama two days a week, with filming scheduled from 8am to 10pm to facilitate night shoots, complicated scenes, inclement weather or other delays.
Although permission was sought for 10 years, the council limited the set’s lifetime to a year, following the concerns raised by the German embassy and other residents of Seaview Terrace.
RTÉ appealed Dublin City Council’s restriction of filming to one year, claiming it would threaten the ability to continue filming the soap which has been on air since 1989. Fair City is screened on RTÉ One four nights a week, averaging more than 500,000 viewers per episode, and its 3,000th episode will air in late September.
RTÉ said the fact that temporary permission had previously been granted and renewed on several occasions made clear that the council did not consider it to be a “bad neighbour”.
The broadcaster said it would be willing to accept a condition limiting the permission to three years, by which time the film set is anticipated to be accommodated in the early phases of a new broadcasting facility at Montrose.
An Bord Pleanála granted permission last November for RTÉ’s €350 million development at Montrose, locating radio, TV, production and broadcasting facilities to a new complex, to include demolition of the outdoor Fair City sets and their relocation within the campus.
RTÉ also appealed the council’s restriction on filming hours to 5pm except for one day a month when work could continue until 10pm.
RTÉ said this would result in considerable impact on production by necessitating off-campus locations to make up the shortfall, which would be more expensive and less efficient.
An Bord Pleanála amended the conditions to allow the sets be retained for three years and eased the restrictions on filming times to twice a month between 5pm and 10pm from Monday to Friday or from 1pm to 6pm on Saturdays, with agreement from the council needed in advance to deviate from these times. The board also removed a condition requiring RTÉ to provide additional screening behind two of the sets.
An RTÉ spokesperson said it welcomes the extension of permission to three years but the implications of the new filming time restrictions are still being reviewed.