Liam and Josephine Campion, directors of Co Laois-based companies promoting the multi-million-euro project before it was stopped in its tracks by the planning authority, are suing the county council for damages.
The Supreme Court has rejected the council’s appeal for a hearing to deal with preliminary points regarding the Campions’ litigation over the council’s blocking completion of the development which, it was claimed, breached initial planning permission.
The Campions claim it may not be possible to rescue the project, which includes a half-built 120-room hotel, conference and arbitration centre and holiday cottages at Ballypaudeen. The scheme included restaurants, lounge bars, a leisure centre and swimming pools.
Mr Justice William M McKechnie, delivering a Supreme Court judgment on behalf of himself, Mr Justice Frank Clarke and Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, said in November 2004 the council granted planning permission for the development.
In July 2006, a meeting had taken place between Mr Campion and James O’Mahoney, senior planner with the council, to discuss proposed amendments to the plans. It was alleged Mr O’Mahoney agreed with “minor changes” which committed the council to accepting them.
Judge McKechnie said the development had proceeded until it was blocked by the council, which directed all unauthorised development be removed and the lands restored.
In 2011, the Campions sued for damages on a number of counts, including misfeasance in public office, breach of contract, duty and legitimate expectation, misrepresentation and wrongful interference with their constitutional rights.
In 2012, the council asked the High Court to direct a preliminary hearing on a number of legal matters, particularly whether an official of the council had authority to bind his employer or agree to revision of a planning permission.
The High Court noted, in its defence to the Campion claims, the council stated that Mr O’Mahoney did not have the authority to bind it and claimed much of the case would be determined by the court’s decision on this and other preliminary issues.
Judge McKechnie said the Campions and their companies claimed developments, as carried out, had been in accordance with the original planning permission and that no new or different permission had been created as a result of the 2006 meeting.
Their point was the senior planner had been satisfied, having examined the revised plans, that the development fully remained within the parameters of the 2004 permission.
Dismissing the council’s appeal, Judge McKechnie said the real point upon which the High Court judge had refused a preliminary hearing was based on his view that one of the essential issues in dispute was whether or not what was proposed constituted “an immaterial” variation of the plans. This could only be determined when fully explored at a full hearing involving expert opinion offered to the High Court.