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Cyclist threatened with €13 million fine and two years in prison over bike shed, forcing her to give up cycling

Siobhán Kelly was accused of “unauthorised development” by Dublin City Council after installing a small shed used to store bikes and her mother’s wheelchair in her front garden

An Irish mother-of-one says her family has given up cycling after she was threatened with two years in prison and an £11 million fine by the council for installing a small bicycle shed in her front garden, used to store her and her son’s bikes, as well as her elderly mother’s wheelchair.

Siobhán Kelly, a resident of Clontarf, a coastal suburb north of Dublin, says she was “flabbergasted, upset, and scared” after receiving a letter from Dublin City Council accusing her of “unauthorised development” – an offence which carries a potential prison sentence and a mind-boggling fine.

Kelly installed the small bicycle shed to increase accessibility for her elderly, wheelchair-using mother, who passed away last year, and to allow her and her son to more conveniently access their bikes, which were previously stored inside their home and constantly “dragged” through the property’s narrow hall.

> Shedgate: Planning officers “got it wrong” says Leicester mayor

However, despite appearing to comply with the local authority’s regulations concerning the placement and size of the shed, the storage facility was nevertheless reported to the council, who – though not venturing to visit the property itself – deemed it to be in breach of planning laws, forcing her to move the shed to her back garden and put it up for sale.

That decision, Siobhán says, has also prompted her and her son to give up cycling and sell their bikes, and is indicative of the lack of “joined-up thinking” when it comes to cycling infrastructure in Dublin, a place where millions are currently being spent on flagship cycle routes but her bike storage facility is deemed to be beyond the pale.

“I don’t know why I gave it such concern, but I did”

“I had a bike and my son was using his bike for everything – he was going everywhere on the bike, that was his transportation. And it was super,” Siobhán tells road.cc. “I was kind of a leisure cyclist, and we’ve had a cycle path in Clontarf for quite a while, and I would use that, which helped with issues in my knees.

“The other thing was that my mother had become quite elderly, and less mobile, so we used a wheelchair for her. But the wheelchair was really heavy, and dragging in it and out of the house was becoming a problem.

“So what I decided was that we needed a shed, so I could literally just open the door and take the wheelchair out, and we’d be off for a lovely walk. And that meant a lot to an 86-year-old woman, it enabled her to get out and about.”

yclist threatened with £11 million fine and two years in prison over bike shed, forcing her to give up cycling (Siobhán Kelly)

After choosing a small two metre-high, sloped storage unit, worth €1,350 and able to store her mother’s wheelchair as well her and her son’s bikes, Siobhán decided to clarify the legality of storing her shed in her front garden with Dublin City Council.

“I was kind of concerned, thinking was this going to be an issue? Is it too high? I don’t even really know why I gave it such consideration, because on the road I live on there are a number of bigger sheds placed in smaller gardens,” she says.

“So I don’t know why I gave it such concern, but I did. I emailed Dublin City Council, and I gave them all the details of the unit, but most importantly I said I wanted to put it in my front garden.”

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In response to Siobhán’s query, the council sent the Clontarf resident a link to its FAQs page. Under the question ‘Can I build a garden shed on my property without permission?’, the council says: “Yes, provided that: It is not forward of the front wall of the house; It is not greater than 25sqm; 25sqm of garden space is left; The Shed finish is in keeping with the house”, and that the shed’s maximum height comes to four metres with a pitched roof.

That response, according to Siobhán, appeared to give her the green light to install the shed, due to its placement within the boundary of her garden (and against the wall to the left-hand side of her property), and its relatively small proportions (2.6 square metres with an apex of two metres).

“All that made perfect sense,” she says of her initial understanding of the council’s regulations. “Of course I’m not going to put the shed out on the path, it’s within the confines of my property, and every second house has one of these things, including both of my adjacent neighbours! We did everything they asked us to do, it was perfect.”

“Why am I being singled out?”

Having assumed that “there was no issue with me having a shed”, and with Dublin City Council not appearing to raise any objection to Siobhán’s request to place it in her front garden, she then purchased and installed the unit in December 2022.

However, just a month later, she received an enforcement letter from the local authority accusing her of “unauthorised development” and breaching planning law after the placement of her shed was reported to the council.

In response, Siobhán penned a 20-page letter outlining her apparent compliance with the authority’s regulations and her need for the shed.

Nevertheless, and despite the council’s inspector failing to personally visit her property, a follow-up letter in March warned her that, unless she dismantled the shed by the end of June, she could face a maximum fine of €12.7 million (around £10.8 million) and two years in prison, as well as having to pay the cost of the council’s investigation – a penalty she deemed to be “beyond what could be considered reasonable”.

Enforcement letter sent to Siobhán Kelly by Dublin City Council concerning her bike shed

The council’s letter, warning Siobhán that she could be subject to a €12,697,380 fine if she did not move her bike shed

“I was flabbergasted, I was really upset, I was pretty flipping scared,” she said of her reaction to her potential punishment. “But I also thought, this is really unfair. Why am I being penalised, why am I being singled out?”

Siobhán told road.cc that two other sheds on her street – one of which is used to store bins – have also since been found to have breached planning laws but, thanks to a council inspector visiting their properties, one has been allowed to stay after the officer exercised statutory discretion, a decision the Clontarf resident described as “purely subjective”.

“There just wasn’t any discussion or room for negotiation,” she says of her own dealings with the council. “And I wasn’t going to apply for planning permission for it because it seemed the council had made up its mind.”

“If it’s not convenient, you’re going to take your car. There are two people now not on bikes because of this folly”

Following the letter, and after taking legal advice, Siobhán chose to take the council’s decision “on the chin” by moving the shed to her back garden, where she says it is now up for sale and “currently sitting doing nothing”, due to her not being physically able to carry the bike up the steps in her property, which also features an especially narrow 1950s front door and hallway.

Cyclist threatened with £11 million fine and two years in prison over bike shed, forcing her to give up cycling (Siobhán Kelly)

The decision, she says, has resulted in Siobhán and her son giving up cycling due to the added inconvenience.

“The shed was very important to my mother, the joy it brought to her life was immeasurable,” she tells road.cc. “But I’m not a serious cyclist, I don’t have all the gear, I had a bike with a nice basket on the front. I could fly over to the nursing home on it, I could fly round to the shops, I could go for a wee cycle on the cycle lane, work out my knees a bit.

“If the weather is fine enough, even in the winter, and it’s convenient, all you have to do is open the shed door and take the bike out. But if it’s not convenient, you’re going to take your car. And I am a prime example of that.

“The unit has moved to the back. The two bikes are gone – I gave my son’s bike away, I sold my bike for about a sixth of its value. We pretty much drive everywhere now. Whereas my son used to cycle to school, he gets a lift now every day.”

Clontarf bike shed

As Siobhán notes during her chat with road.cc, her experience dealing with Dublin City Council isn’t the first time that a cyclist in Clontarf has fallen foul in recent years to the authority’s seemingly draconian stance on bike sheds.

In April 2022, the council forced a family on St Lawrence Road to remove a green plastic bike shed from their front of their home after claiming it would cause “serious injury” to the street of mostly listed houses, arguing that it was “unsympathetic” in appearance and added “visual clutter” to the area.

A lack of “joined-up” thinking?

Siobhán argues that these decisions – which impact the ability of families to cycle by ridding them of safe storage facilities – fly in the face of the Irish government’s stated ambition to increase cycling and walking numbers in the country.

In fact, transport minister Eamon Ryan’s announcement that €290m is set to be made available for active travel infrastructure this year was made last week while standing next to the currently in-progress flagship 2.7km cycle lane between Clontarf and Dublin city centre – and just yards away from Siobhán’s now bike shed-less property.

> “We’ll see a tipping point where there’s a massive increase in cycling and walking as a mainstream form of transport”: Irish Transport Minister makes strong statement on country’s active travel

“At the end of our road, there’s a €65 million cycle lane being built, and we can’t use it. There’s no point building all this infrastructure when you can’t park a bike on your own property. There are two people now not on bikes because of this folly,” she says.

“Eamon Ryan is standing across the road, going on about the progress of these cycle lanes, and I’m thinking I’ve just given away my son’s bike, I’ve sold my own bike for about a sixth of the cost of it. I won’t be cycling now on these beautiful cycle lanes.

“If I left our bikes outside of the house, with the best will in the world they’re going to be stolen. Unless they’re in a locked-up shed, I have no chance. Clontarf Garda station has literally hundreds of bikes in there, that they’ve collected stolen.

“It just doesn’t add up. Yes, spend all this money on a beautiful cycle path, it’s great. But get the other infrastructure in place first. It’s like building a load of houses without having water or electricity.”

> “It’s all just to make room for cyclists”: Locals blast removal of bus stops on new cycleway route

The “joined-up thinking” called for by the Clontarf resident has at least shown some signs of making headway within Irish political circles, after Green Party TD Steven Matthews drafted a legislative amendment last summer that would automatically exempt bike storage units from requiring planning permission – though any hopes of it making its way into law in the next few months appear slim.

“It’s a reasonable request to be able to put a simple, secure bike lock-up in your front garden,” Matthews said. “We should make it as easy as possible for people. We’re trying to get more people onto bikes.”

And the way to get people on bikes, Siobhán believes, is by allowing them to store their bikes safely in their gardens.

“Ultimately I want to put my shed back,” she says. “I want the council to allow everyone to have sheds in their front garden, whether they’re going to store bins in it, bikes, garden tools. I’d like to be able to do that too. And maybe in time a bike would find its way back into my possession again.”

> Bike shed planning appeal lost as inspector rules wooden structure "harmful" to Grade II listed building

Of course, prolonged bike shed planning sagas are not solely an Irish issue.

Bike shed (Telford & Wrekin Council planning portal)

In November, we reported that a homeowner who installed a wooden bike shed outside his one-bedroom property in a Grade II listed former workhouse in Ironbridge, near Telford, will not be allowed to keep the “very modest” storage facility after the council and a planning inspector objected to the structure, claiming it would “lead to a harmful cumulative change to the listed building”.

Leicester bike shed (Kavi Pujara)

And in autumn 2021, during a debacle dubbed ‘Shedgate’ by locals, Leicester City Council told a family that it would need to remove its homemade eco bike shed as it was not in keeping with the Victorian character of the street, something numerous people pointed out did not seem to be an issue with the on-street car parking that lines the road.

Following plenty of support for the family’s case, however, the city’s mayor even got involved to admit that planning officers had “got it wrong”, before it was triumphantly announced that the bike shed could stay.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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77 comments

Avatar
Rendel Harris | 1 month ago
1 like

Here's a rather rich irony I discovered whilst idly browsing this story: whilst its rules mandate no bike sheds allowed beyond the front wall of houses, at its own eighteenth-century Central Area Office in Dublin the council has installed a bike hangar right in front. Apparently council-owned buildings are exempt from planning rules (not being sarcastic, they are). I'm all for bike storage everywhere but which looks more out of place, a bike shed outside a fairly nondescript new build in the suburbs or a hangar outside a Georgian building in the town centre?

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polainm | 1 month ago
0 likes

The Planning system across the UK is utterly broken. I'm in the process of appealing a tiny balcony out the back of a sh1tty bin lane in Newcastle. The LA has lied on the enforcement notice and if I win, will then seek to recover my costs. This photo shows a Planning cock-up which allowed this massive development to overlook these properties. Planning?

What the Dublin resident should have done is had a failed MoT van delivered as scrap, because the flaccid 'planning' farce isn't an enabler; it's a gatekeeper and gets in the way of people trying to do The Right Thing, yet allows Tescopoly to run amok. 

The rusting van eyesore would be allowed. Sadly the Enforcement Officers just follow outdated backward rules with little context or joined up thinking, rather like cycle infrastructure. Planning officers rarely bother to visit tiny infractions because they are busy firefighting Big Developers, who have well paid private planning advisors. Except with infra, sound guidance is there but highway planning ignore it and build sh1te. 

Welcome to #brokenbritain (and Dublin).

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OldRidgeback | 1 month ago
0 likes

I think this is one of the most absurd cases I've ever heard. The council officer who made this decision needs to give their head a wobble.

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grOg | 1 month ago
0 likes

‘Can I build a garden shed on my property without permission?’, the council says: “Yes, provided that: It is not forward of the front wall of the house; It is not greater than 25sqm; 25sqm of garden space is left; The shed finish is in keeping with the house”, and that the shed’s maximum height comes to four metres with a pitched roof.

That response, according to Siobhán, appeared to give her the green light to install the shed, due to its placement within the boundary of her garden (and against the wall to the left-hand side of her property), and its relatively small proportions (2.6 square metres with an apex of two metres).

The shed is clearly forward of the front wall of the house, something that Siobhán conveniently chose to ignore; the rule is petty but she is in violation.

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Daclu Trelub | 1 month ago
2 likes

It's Dublin City Council - shower of arseholes, always have been. As for the reporter of the shed - look no further than next door, where Grassy O'Grassington lives.

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Rouba1x | 1 month ago
2 likes

I must admit, the bike shed stops you from appreciating the lovely plastic wheelie bins.

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Săndel | 1 month ago
1 like

You repeated the same bloody thing so many times I just gave up reading halfway in.

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Roger N | 1 month ago
2 likes

The advice from the UK government which was published earlier this month is actually to store/charge ebikes/escooters outside.  There is therefore a contradiction between local authorities and national government.  If you follow the logic of the local council, they are prioritising aesthetics over safety.  At local and national level, they really should be joining up to advocate for safer practices and encourage more external storage/charging solutions, not banning them.  Keeping them inside is not the safest practice at all.

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wycombewheeler replied to Roger N | 1 month ago
1 like

roger.nolan [at] gmail.com wrote:

The advice from the UK government which was published earlier this month is actually to store/charge ebikes/escooters outside.  There is therefore a contradiction between local authorities and national government.  If you follow the logic of the local council, they are prioritising aesthetics over safety.  At local and national level, they really should be joining up to advocate for safer practices and encourage more external storage/charging solutions, not banning them.  Keeping them inside is not the safest practice at all.

the council will argue bikes can be stored in the rear garden, which is outside without falling foul of planning regs.

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Roger N replied to wycombewheeler | 1 month ago
1 like

Of course the rear garden is preferable from a security and aesthetic perspective.  Some people, however, don't have a rear garden or may not be able to access it.  For example, what about people with Long Johns/ Urban Arrows or even e-trikes?  What about those in townhouses that don't have access to a rear garden, etc etc?  What about older/weaker people who can't maneuvre the bikes up and down steps?  Ebikes can be a lot heavier.  Point is this can be a real safety issue for some, so the Council should be careful before giving unilateral judgments.

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wycombewheeler replied to Roger N | 1 month ago
0 likes

Roger N wrote:

Of course the rear garden is preferable from a security and aesthetic perspective.  Some people, however, don't have a rear garden or may not be able to access it.  For example, what about people with Long Johns/ Urban Arrows or even e-trikes?  What about those in townhouses that don't have access to a rear garden, etc etc?  What about older/weaker people who can't maneuvre the bikes up and down steps?  Ebikes can be a lot heavier.  Point is this can be a real safety issue for some, so the Council should be careful before giving unilateral judgments.

I don't say the council are right, that is just their view. Clearly it is preferable not to drag dirty bikes through the entire house from front to back garden.

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Oldfatgit replied to Roger N | 1 month ago
1 like

My ebike manufacturer recommends against charging outside of the house or garage.
Sheds can be quiet damp, which in turn can increase the risk of short circuit in either the connector or the charger unit.
[It's also not recommended to install freezers, washing machines and tumble dryers in sheds or unheated garages for the same reason, unless the manufacturer has approved them for such location]

The best advice really, is to only buy equipment that has been regulated - ie, from a reputable manufacturer, charge in line with the manufacturer instructions and *never* leave it fully unattended while charging.

[It's also the reason why I chose a bike with a battery that can be removed for charging]

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sq225917 | 1 month ago
3 likes

All these comments are interesting, but, elephant in the room, what sort of bloody paradise does she live in where she can store bikes outside at night? What rainbow does she live at the end of?

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quiff replied to sq225917 | 1 month ago
5 likes

I think she doesn't, and that's why she wants a shed:

The Owner wrote:

“If I left our bikes outside of the house, with the best will in the world they’re going to be stolen. Unless they’re in a locked-up shed, I have no chance.

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grOg replied to quiff | 1 month ago
0 likes

There are many places where bikes stored in locked-up sheds will still get stolen, as a locked-up shed is not much security, compared to being locked up in a garage or house.

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Daclu Trelub replied to sq225917 | 1 month ago
1 like

sq225917 wrote:

All these comments are interesting, but, elephant in the room, what sort of bloody paradise does she live in where she can store bikes outside at night? What rainbow does she live at the end of?

Clontarf, supposedly. Less likely to get bikes nicked, but it's still Dublin, where cycle theft is rife all over.

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Wheelywheelygood | 1 month ago
1 like

Can nobody shed some light on this problem 

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henryb | 1 month ago
1 like

The headline "Cyclist threatened with €13 million fine and two years in prison" is not accurate. The law allows for a penalty of up to €13m (or actually €12.7m) or a prison term of up to 2 years. She was never actually threatened with anything specific.

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Mybike replied to henryb | 1 month ago
2 likes

The letter threaten her

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grOg replied to Mybike | 1 month ago
0 likes

What a nasty letter

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quiff replied to henryb | 1 month ago
2 likes

The letter (and the law) provides the penalty for an offence is a fine or imprisonment or both. Presumably though that level of fine would only ever be used for egregious breaches by e.g. a commercial developer who stood to make serious money by breaching planning.   

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Shades | 1 month ago
7 likes

Plenty of the 'off-the'-shelf' bike storage units in front of (terraced) houses around us; some of the larger Victorian villas have bespoke built storage on the walkway between pavement and front door.  Not sure you even need planning permission; never hear anyone moaning.  Wheelie-bins and recycling boxes left everywhere; now that's an eyesore.  Get the council to deploy some of the on-street bike storage units; now they really send the NIMBYs into orbit (loss of a parking space).

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jarpots | 1 month ago
5 likes

Should consider an Outbox Underground Cycle Garage

Technically any 'structure' in front of your house (the front elevation of the property) requires planning permission. Some councils have been known to turn a blind eye, but ultimately, can decide to ask you to remove the structure without planning authority. Councils are particular about conservation areas and listed buildings, where a cycle shed would have detrimental visual impact.

Outbox stores your cycles, ebikes or mobility scooter underground, in an easily accessible secure container. This has minimal visual impact and little effect on the 'character' of a residential neighbourhood. Research has suggested that councils may be more amenable to this solution.

Outbox is still in development and I am seeking funding to get this innovative product to market.

 

 

Avatar
brooksby replied to jarpots | 1 month ago
4 likes

jarpots wrote:

Outbox is still in development and seeking funding to get its innovative product to market.

I think you forgot to declare an interest in this product, jarpots?

Avatar
jarpots replied to brooksby | 1 month ago
2 likes

Its my first post on this website so a little unfamiliar with protocol. Very happy to declare an interest. Just trying to solve an obvious problem. If this is unnacceptable, let me know and I will delete.

 

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grOg replied to brooksby | 1 month ago
0 likes

'Outbox is still in development and I am seeking funding to get this innovative product to market.'

Looks like a declaration of interest to me..

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Hirsute replied to grOg | 1 month ago
2 likes

That's because they went back and edited it ...

You can even tell that from the quote in brooksby's post.

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chrisonabike replied to jarpots | 1 month ago
6 likes

Looks like it'd also be good for when the in-laws want to come and stay but you just can't find room.

Or indeed for yourself when you're long past cycling...

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Rendel Harris replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
7 likes

chrisonabike wrote:

Looks like it'd also be good for when the in-laws want to come and stay but you just can't find room.

Or indeed for yourself when you're long past cycling...

yes Picturing Hallowe'en (hopefully many years hence!) when trick or treaters are greeted with the sight of the embalmed remains of chrisonabike slowly emerging from the front drive...

 

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chrisonabike replied to Rendel Harris | 1 month ago
2 likes

It's what he would have wanted...

You'd get the measure of folks soon enough, if one said "ooh - look at that Shand Levret!" or peered into the pit looking for abandoned torque wrenches!

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