An Bord Pleanala has refused planning permission for new sports facilities at a Dublin school in a project linked to controversial plans for a major housing development near St Anne's Park in Raheny.
The board rejected an appeal by the Vincentian order, which runs St Paul's College in Raheny, against the decision of Dublin City Council (DCC) to refuse planning permission for the construction of a sports hall and two all-weather floodlit playing pitches on the school's grounds following the demolition of three older school buildings.
The plans for the new sports facilities at St Paul's College are associated with a large development proposed by Crekav, one of the country's largest construction firms, to build over 650 homes on an adjoining site.
It is believed the construction of the pitches and sports hall is part of the deal that saw Crekav acquire other school property - including several sports pitches for a housing development next to St Anne's Park - for a reported €17m in November 2015.
DCC had rejected the application for the construction of the new sports facilities because the lands were one of the most important feeding sites in Dublin for brent geese.
Officials said they were not satisfied that the proposed development would maintain the favourable conservation condition of the birds.
They were concerned it would harm the integrity of the status of North Bull Island - the main feeding site for brent geese.
The Vincentians said the proposed works would be carried out in summer months when the school was closed and when no brent geese were in Ireland.
The order pointed out that floodlit, artificial sports surfaces had been permitted in St Anne's Park, which was a more extensive and important feeding site for brent geese.
It also claimed the geese had been adaptive in their feeding patterns and their network of feeding sites had risen in recent years.
A Natural Impact Statement submitted by the Vincentians claimed there were adequate inland feeding sites for the birds to absorb the loss of St Paul's and 12 other sites where some development was proposed.
The sports facilities plan was supported by Clontarf GAA Club, which it said would address the shortfall that many clubs faced in having available winter training pitches.
However, it was opposed by the Clontarf Residents' Association, which claimed the promoters were engaged in "project splitting", and An Taisce, which said it was clear the St Paul's site had a relationship with nearby special protection areas.
The Department of Culture also expressed concern that the replacement of grass pitches with all-weather surfaces would result in a loss of feeding areas for brent geese.
An Bord Pleanala said it had taken into consideration the recent changed characteristics of the former pitches at the college, which had resulted in a possible reduction in the overall quality of grasslands for feeding purposes and the lack of any up-to-date information on use of the site by brent geese.
It said the board could therefore not establish "beyond all reasonable scientific doubt that the proposed development", would not adversely affect the integrity of the North Bull Island Special Protection Area - the main feeding area for brent geese, as well as other EU protected areas.
As a consequence, the board said it would not be able to approve the project. It reached the same conclusion in a ruling in September 2018 on an application by Crekav to build 536 new housing units on the school's grounds.
The board had granted planning permission for the development in April 2018, which was opposed by sports clubs and community groups, but it was subsequently directed by the High Court to consider the application afresh after a judicial review was sought.
An Bord Pleanala got a revised application from Crekav last October for 657 apartments and a creche on the site under the fast-track planning scheme.
A ruling is pending on the latest application.