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Recommendation to refuse seven-bedroom guesthouse at Killeavy Castle overturned on ‘anomaly’

Councillors have unanimously overturned a refusal for a south Armagh hotel development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The Newry, Mourne and Down District Council planning application for change of use of a rural building, will see a house in the Ring of Gullion being remodelled as a seven bedroom guesthouse for weddings and functions.

The accommodation will form part of the Killeavy Castle Estate which was purchased in 2013 by Australian millionaire couple Mick and Robin Boyle.

The South Armagh-born businessman and his wife invested £13m transforming the building into an award winning four star hotel and the AA Northern Ireland Hotel of Year 2023.

A council officer said: “The application is being refused as the building is not essential in a rural location and it is not considered a suitable locally important building of special character or interest.”

The chamber was told that hotel owner, Mick Boyle was unable to attend the planning meeting as he was taking part in a RTE tourism film about the castle.

However, a statement from Mr Boyle was read, stating: “As the owners of Killeavy Castle Estate we are 10 years in to a 25 year restoration project. All work carried out to date and planned for the future has been done carefully, respectfully and sympathetically to showcase the best of south Armagh.

“The farm which was just as derelict as the buildings, has been more than half restored and produces a lot of the produce used in the bistro bar and restaurant on the estate. The ethos of the hotel is sustainability and Killeavy Castle Estate Ltd was the winner of the 2024 Most Sustainable Medium Business on the island of Ireland.”

The statement added: “The building for development is located 100m from the Killeavy Castle on the Wood Road and was previously granted planning permission to be built in 2002. The proposed development on Wood Road will be a high quality addition to the accommodation offering of Killeavy Castle Estate and will generate more visitors and employment for the area.

“The proposed works utilise existing buildings, rather then creating new and is in line with the estate’s sustainable ethos, which has made Killeavy Castle Estate a showcase property for eco-tourism in Northern Ireland.”

During discussions on the application, the chamber heard that planning policy “seemed to have a slight anomaly” as it could allow for “new build” self-catering accommodation located on the same grounds rather than a change of use application.

Architect, John Cole on behalf of the Boyles argued a new-build would be against the developers’ “sustainability ethos”.

A proposal to approve the development and over-turn the officer’s recommendation of refusal, was made by Slieve Gullion Sinn Fein rep, Aoife Finnegan, which then gained full support in the chamber.

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