A question mark hands over the validity of the Galway City Development Plan arising from a row between the Mayor of Galway and Independent Cllr Catherine Connolly during a council meeting last January which approved the plan.
Cllr Connolly remained at the council meeting on January 24 last and seconded the resolution approving the City Development Plan 2011-2017 although the council had earlier passed a motion requiring her leave the meeting arising from a dispute between her and the Mayor, Fianna Fail councillor Michael Crowe, the Commercial Court heard this week.
Michael O'Higgins, a local businessman and former FF mayor of Galway, had opposed a material amendment of the plan which had the effect of rejecting the designation of lands owned by his company at Rahoon as a "district centre".
The designation of the lands as a district centre would enhance its commercial value and facilitate the development of a Tesco foodstore, he said.
However, the Council supported the material amendment by eight votes to seven and passed a resolution providing that any proposed development ``shall maintain the existing Rahoon Road building line and include appropriate landscaping''.
Mr O'Higgins has brought proceedings seeking to quash that decision and his case raises issues about the validity of the entire development plan.
In proceedings transferred by Mr Justice Peter Kelly to the Commercial Court, Mr O'Higgins claims the amendment sanctioned by the Council resolution of January 24 last is invalid because Cllr Connolly remained and voted at the meeting despite the earlier motion requiring her to leave the Council meeting.
Eamon Galligan SC, for Mr O'Higgins, said there was no dispute about what had occurred at the meeting but the consequences of that had to be decided.
John Gallagher SC, for the Council, said it was very anxious the case be quickly decided as there was an issue whether it affected the validity of the entire process.
Mr Justice Kelly noted there was no dispute about the facts, that Cllr Connolly had voted at the meeting despite the fact she had an argument with the Mayor as a result of which a resolution was passed for her removal. The issue was the legal consequences of that "spat", he said and fixed the case for hearing next month.
Mr O'Higgins, Ceann Boirne, Taylor's Hill, Galway, and his company, T O'hUiginn & Comhlucht Teoranta, are seeking court orders overturning the Council's vote relating to his lands. He wants an order providing for a district centre designation for the lands or, alternatively, an order requiring the Council retake the vote in accordance with its standing orders.
He claims the presence of Cllr Connolly at the meeting, and her participation in the vote on the development plan, breached the standing orders and also breached provisions of the Local Government Act 2001.
In an affidavit, Mr O'Higgins said the council had in February 2009 announced its intention to reveiw the Galway City Development Plan and invited submissions. In April 2009, he lodged submissions seeking that all of the Rahoon lands be zoned C1 - Enterprise, Light Industry and Commercial Uses. He also sought that the plan include a specific objective to designate the Westside retail/commercial area - including the Rahoon lands - as a district centre.
During the council meeting on January 24 last, a disagrement arose between Cllr Connolly and the Mayor, who was chairing the meeting, concerning a material amendment related to lands at Dyke Road, he said. The Mayor, under the standing orders, proposed that Cllr Connolly leave the meeting and that resolution was seconded by FF councillor Peter Keane. Although the motion was carried, Cllr Connolly remained in attendance, the Mayor left and the Deputy Mayor, Fine Gael councillor Brian Walsh, took the chair.
Mr O'Higgins said the standing orders provide, where a motion has been passed for a councillor to leave a meeting, he/she shall leave immediately and is not entitled to speak or vote or take any further part in the meeting.
The material amendment concerning the Rahoon lands was considered after the motion for Cllr Connolly's removal, he said. Labour coun cillor Colette Connolly proposed the district centre designation be rejected and seven voted in favour of that with seven against. The Deputy Mayor exercised his casting vote for that proposal and it was consequently carried.