In his garden on Monday evening, lit up by the red neon light from the petrol station canopy just feet away from his wall, Steve Doogan says he knew when he bought this house that there was permission for a filling station.
But he never imagined that such an imposing structure would be allowed in a residential area, he says.
The old disused garage building that was there before had been unimposing, he says, whereas this one looks to him like it belongs on a motorway.
“It is one of the most personally offensive things,” he says. “You have this kind of Las Vegas lighting at the end of the garden.”
In January 2019, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the large self-service filling station on the Old Cabra Road, says Deirdre McFeely, secretary of the Glenbeigh Area Residents Association.
That was after an appeal and residents had to accept the decision, she says.
But they were surprised, she said, when the filling station was completed earlier this year. There was the bright red neon light pouring into some gardens.
But also, the forecourt deviates from the planning permission in several ways, including the building height, the lack of greening and the positioning of signs.
“As a community, it is hard to know what to do or who to turn to when you feel completely let down by the planning system,” says McFeely.
At the start of September, Dublin City Council issued an enforcement notice to the filling station owners, the Lissan Coal Company, for breaching conditions of the planning permission, including one that light be deflected away from nearby homes.
Owners of the Lissan Coal Company didn’t respond to a request to talk on Friday sent through its online form.
But on 28 July, the company had applied for “retention permission”, to keep some features such as the height of the building that don’t comply with the granted permission.
Doogan says that he finds it difficult to work out from the planning file if that bright red light shining into his garden was allowed by the planners.
In any case, it affects his garden all evening in winter, he says.
He also has big double doors to his kitchen so once the red light flicks on, it invades his home too. “With the winter evenings coming in, it comes on earlier and earlier,” he says.
The lights go out at around 11:15 when the station closes, he says. (That’s in line with the planning permission.)
McFeely, who is also his neighbour, says that Doogan and a few others living beside him are particularly badly affected as their back gardens are right next to the filling station.
However the entire area would benefit if the owners complied with all of the reasonable conditions laid down in the original planning permission, she says.
On 1 September, Dublin City Council issued an enforcement notice citing planning conditions that say that the owners must comply with a lighting scheme agreed upon in advance with the planning authority.
And that: “The lighting serving the site shall be directed away from the adjacent housing and shall be directed and cowled so as to reduce the light scatter over adjacent houses and gardens.”
The notice had to be complied within the period from 12 September to 14 November, it says.
It doesn’t appear that any effort has yet been made to divert the bright red light from the filling station canopy, which is just a few feet away from Doogan’s garden.
McFeely says there is no need for the back of the canopy to be lit up at all.
It’s the front that needs to be visible to the passing traffic on the road, she says. “They could have put in a less offensive design and still made just as much money.”
On top of the unwanted bright lights in some of the gardens, McFeely says that the large sign at the front of the filling station is supposed to be externally illuminated, which would be much less intrusive.
That means having lights shining up from the base rather than bright red lights shining out of the sign, she says.
The owners were supposed to plant trees – or hedges – at the back of the station as cover between the station and Doogan’s garden, she says, but they haven’t done that.
McFeely is surprised that no one follows up to check that what was built out in the end was in line with the planning permission granted, she says.
Says Doogan: “It is so weird that they are allowed to build whatever they want.”
In July, Lissan Coal Ltd submitted a request for retention permission. That’s a route for getting permission after the fact, for works that have been done without it.
The request says that the current development is in line with the city development plan, and in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.
That application indicates that the filling station canopy is higher than was permitted. The owner requested, among other things, “alterations to the forecourt canopy including increased height and revised design”, it says.
The application also sought permission for the main stand-alone sign at the front – called a totem sign – to be put 3 metres back from the footpath, while the planning permission had said it should be 4 metres back. (That sign currently appears to start about 1 metre back from the edge of the footpath.)
The owners also looked for permission to install new LED signs and vending machines, among other things.
Several public representatives have weighed in on the application.
“This application for retention appears to have come as a result of a move by planning enforcement to ensure compliance with these original conditions,” wrote Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan and Councillor Darcy Lonergan.
“Orderly development of the city cannot be ensured if developers feel planning conditions are optional,” their submission says.
Also, while the positioning of the totem sign was addressed in the retention application the requirement for external illumination was not, they wrote.
Independent Councillor Cieran Perry says: “As height and the possibility of intrusiveness on neighbouring properties is always a contentious issue, it is unacceptable that the developer would increase height in breach of planning and then seek retention.”
Given the existing complaints about the lighting, any extra LED signs should be addressed through the standard planning process and not through retention application, he says.