Planning bombshell for dialysis centre
There has been a unanimously angry reaction to a decision by Wexford County Council to refuse planning permission for an urgently-needed dialysis unit in the old Acorn Fashions premises in Whitemill Industrial Estate.
Fresenius Medical Care (Ireland) Ltd applied last February for a change of use from manufacturing to a renal dialysis unit along with upgrade works on the building.
But the local authority has decided that the proposed development does not conform with the industrial zoning of the area and has turned down the application. It may now be another two years before a dialysis unit opens in Wexford.
It has emerged that in April, Council planners asked Fresenius to guarantee that the presence of a dialysis unit would not result in restrictions on future manufacturing projects or a waste recycling plant under consideration by the local authority.
When Fresenius Ltd replied that any future proposals would have to be decided on their own merits but that a recycling facility on adjoining land owned by the Council would have a negative impact on renal dialysis use, local authority planners refused permission.
'I'm extremely disappointed. This is maddening,' said Cllr. George Lawlor. 'From what I understand it was refused on the basis that the existence of a dialysis unit would create a sterile area that could affect future planning development.'
'What I'm livid about is that this could have been indicated to the applicant at the pre-planning stage in January but instead it was allowed to go on for eight months before a decision was made.'
'If the applicant appeals, it could take another six months and if there is a fresh application, it will take even longer. Meanwhile, Wexford dialysis patients have to travel to Waterford three times a week for treatment,' said Cllr. Lawlor.
'This is a nightmare scenario for the people who need dialysis and the planners should have been more sensitive to their situation. It's maddening because this wastes everyone's time.'
'I understand the decision but it's frustrating that this was allowed to go on for this length of time when it would have been clear at the beginning.'
Minister of State Paul Kehoe laid the blame at the feet of the HSE and not the Council.
'I'm very disappointed with the HSE and the way they handled this. The HSE should have sat down with the County Council to identify and agree a number of suitable sites and then outlined these as the locations they were seeking tenders for instead of leaving it to tender applicants to find sites. The tenderer will always look for the cheapest option', said Deputy Kehoe.
Wexford dialysis patient Celina Looby of Beechlawn, Clonard called the planning decision 'disgraceful'.
Celina (77) has been travelling to Waterford Hospital three times a week for dialysis treatment for the past eight years.
'I think it's disgraceful not only for me but especially for people who live further away in the north of the county, in Enniscorthy and Gorey. It's an awful journey for them.'
'I broke my leg 12 months ago and ended up in hospital in Gorey and I had to travel from there to Waterford for dialysis and it was a dreadful journey.'
'I was really looking forward to the Wexford dialysis unit opening and I wasn't the only one,' said Celina.
CEO of the Irish Kidney Association Mark Murphy said he understood that Fresenius would have been given planning permission to open the dialysis unit if they had agreed not to object to the possibility of a waste recycling plant on existing Council depot land beside the Acorn Fashions building at some stage in the future.
'I'm not shocked at the eventual decision because I was aware the Council were going in this direction and the HSE were upset about it given that it was not mentioned in pre-planning,' he said.
Mr. Murphy said renal dialysis units utilise pure water and it would be unsuitable to locate a unit beside a waste recycling plant.
The association executive said people have been left 'absolutely messed up' by the planning decision.
'It's very disappointing because I think the Council could make it happen there if they wanted to.'
'It's seven years since Wexford was identified as an area that needed a dialysis unit. There are 22 dialysis units in the country but there is not one between Sandyford and Waterford,' he said.
In a report last April, executive planner Mr. Houston noted that during pre-planning discussions there was no objection in principle to the development.
He said the site to the west of the application site is owned by Wexford County Council which operates a district roads depot there and the land to the front of the yard was identified as 'a possible household recycling and waste disposal site for Wexford town.'
Mr. Houston said he was concerned that the proposed use of Acorn Fashions as a dialysis unit was not appropriate for the location. 'I am also not satisfied that the use complies with the Wexford Town and Environs Plan and that the medical centre may impact on the use of the redevelopment of adjoining plans for manufacturing. There is a limiting amount of zoned serviced industrial land that is available and suitable in Wexford town and this resource needs to be protected,' he said.
He noted that the planning authority had already granted permission for the same use in an alternative location and that there is a vacant medical unit half a kilometre from the site.
'I am not prepared to recommend planning permission without assurances that the adjoining sites or general area would not be adversely impacted.' Mr. Houston asked that the applicant provide reassurance that ' the use would not restrict the existing and future use of the adjoining lands for manfuacturing'.
'Please therefore submit clarifcation from the HSE and your medical consultant that manufacturing, civic recycling, refuse transfer and transport depot uses would be acceptable adjacent to a dialysis unit,' he said.
John Spain Associates, on behalf of the applicant, submitted that they could not be expected to comment on the compatibility of the proposed dialysis unit with a potential future use for which there is currently no proposal but made it clear that a waste recycling plant on the adjoining site would have a negative impact on the medical centre.
'There is a clear and identified urgent public need for a renal dialysis unit in Wexford,' they added.
'The application site has been selected by way of a tender process carried out by the HSE. A decision to refuse planning would have significant time frame implications, forcing the tender process to be re-opened and likely resulting in the delivery of a dialysis unit in Wexford being delayed until late 2018 or early 2019'.
Fresenius are fully satisfied that the unit is compatible with existing uses in the surrounding area which include childare, offices, supermarket, a medical centre and pharmacy, they told the Council.