An Bord Pleanála has overturned a Meath County Council decision to exempt the building of a drug detox clinic by the Scientology group, Narconon, in Ballivor, Co Meath.

Meath County Council had found that a change of use from a nursing home to a residential drug rehab facility was not a material change of use and was exempted development which did not require planning permission. 

However, An Bord Pleanála has ruled that the Narconon facility is a material change of use, and a development, and does require planning permission.

The An Bord Pleanála decision has come on foot of two appeals, one from Ballivor Community Group; the other from Trim Municipal District Council.

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Narconon proceeded with building the facility, which is now almost complete.

It is now open to Meath County Council to issue enforcement action against the development, and it is also open to the developer, Narconon, to submit a planning application to seek retrospective permission for it.

The appeals against the Section 5 exemption were led by a local Councillor, Noel French.

In a statement, Narconan said: "Meath County Council granted Narconon planning permission in 2016. The building is nearly completed. We adhered to planning laws from start to finish. We are surprised by this decision from An Bord Pleanala more than two years later and we are seeking legal advice."

An Bord Pleanála pointed to planning considerations including traffic and pedestrians, and the provision of what it said was a different service to a different user group, including a broader age profile and drug dependents.

It found that a residential drug rehabilitation facility was "a material change of use, and is development", inconsistent with the previous planning permission for the nursing home, by reason of "significant differences in the services provided, the age profile of the likely occupants, the greater geographical areas that would be served by the facility and the limited interaction with the local community within this small village".

A report by an Inspector of An Bord Pleanála noted that the development potentially had "consequences for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area" and "the zoning objectives for the site, which seek to protect, provide for and/or improve town and village facilities and to provide for necessary community, educational and social facilities."