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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.”

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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
don simon fbpe | 3 months ago
18 likes

I find wheelie bins and recycling bins left on display much more offensive to the eye. And cars.

Avatar
Sriracha replied to don simon fbpe | 3 months ago
1 like

See my comment below. Or go straight to the link:
https://www.mrw.co.uk/news/government-planning-changes-to-end-bin-blight...

Avatar
Oldfatgit | 3 months ago
9 likes

I agree that the decision is a pile of shite ... but based on the information in the article, the owner has misunderstood the requirements.

[Snip]
“Yes, provided that: It is not forward of the front wall of the house;"
[Snip]
And
[Snip]
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)
[Snip]

The shed is clearly forward of the front wall of the house; it appears that Siobhán has taken the 'front wall of the house' to be the boundary wall.

The wording from the council doesn't seem that ambiguous to me ... but I would have sought a second opinion if the fines are that high.

Certainly seems like she's got a shit deal though.

Avatar
Global Nomad replied to Oldfatgit | 3 months ago
4 likes

my thoughts exactly. Though her shed is a temporary structure which is clearly movable and not a built shed - so not unlawful development in the way the fine implies.

Planning law in the UK is a mess and overwhelmed by the number of works and lack of fundign each council has to consider.  Conservation areas add to that burden where everythign is about maintaining the status quo. 

We need regulations to avoid complete chaos but we also need updated policies. 

PS i'm an architect.....

Avatar
mark1a replied to Global Nomad | 3 months ago
4 likes

Global Nomad wrote:

my thoughts exactly. Though her shed is a temporary structure which is clearly movable and not a built shed - so not unlawful development in the way the fine implies.

Planning law in the UK is a mess and overwhelmed by the number of works and lack of fundign each council has to consider.  Conservation areas add to that burden where everythign is about maintaining the status quo. 

We need regulations to avoid complete chaos but we also need updated policies. 

PS i'm an architect.....

Could be different in Ireland though. 

Avatar
IanMK replied to Oldfatgit | 3 months ago
1 like

Exactly. I think I might have been tempted to push the shad back against what looks like a converted garage. It looks like that would be behind the front wall on the right. Obviously, not a permanent solution but if she could have got a planning inspector out they might have some hope of getting a sensible compromise and put it back where it is. 

Avatar
chrisonabike | 3 months ago
4 likes

Shurely seven-bins-Sunak should be championing bin sheds?  Oh, wait.

Count Binface it is then.

(Yes - that won't help you in Ireland...)

Avatar
Sriracha | 3 months ago
2 likes

Well, just maybe, things are going to change. By dint of being classed together with those other bi-wheeled blights on the local amenity - the wheelie-bins - bicycles could get a reprieve:
https://www.mrw.co.uk/news/government-planning-changes-to-end-bin-blight...

Avatar
SaveTheWail replied to Sriracha | 3 months ago
0 likes

The size limit they're suggesting would mean having to choose between storing your bike(s) or your wheelie bins, unless you could build more than one store (but there would probably be something about these dimensions being the total you could have).  If they limit it to something that small, you might not be able to store your tandem/tricycle etc. either.

'..the Government is proposing that houses in protected areas can also construct bin and bike stores in front of their homes....The housing department suggest that it may be necessary to limit the size of such outbuildings, suggesting they be no larger than two metres wide, one metre deep and one-and-a-half metres in height.'

 

 

Avatar
SaveTheWail replied to SaveTheWail | 3 months ago
1 like

At least they're not referring to stored bicycles as a 'bicycle blight', but then again it might help if they were regarded thus if it meant that people would be allowed to build a decent-sized bicycle shed.

Avatar
Muddy Ford | 3 months ago
18 likes

stick an ugly van in the road that has a tail lift, and use that for a shed. 

Avatar
ROOTminus1 replied to Muddy Ford | 3 months ago
7 likes

Could even jack it up, remove the wheels and put it on bricks. If it gets graffiti'd up with "[head of planning department] is a [expletive of choice]" by someone later, there wouldn't be much argument to the sentiment
Declare the vehicle SORN and what can they do?

Avatar
Sriracha replied to ROOTminus1 | 3 months ago
8 likes
ROOTminus1 wrote:

Declare the vehicle SORN and what can they do?

Remove it, if it is in the road with a SORN.

Avatar
ROOTminus1 replied to Sriracha | 3 months ago
1 like

Every single shed listed in the article is on private land; driveways and in front gardens. Why would anyone pay vehicle excise duty solely for an act of malicious compliance?

Avatar
Sriracha replied to ROOTminus1 | 3 months ago
5 likes

The comment to which you originally replied said, "stick an ugly van in the road..."

Avatar
ROOTminus1 replied to Sriracha | 3 months ago
0 likes

Touché.
The question still stands, but I would like to redirect it to @Muddy Ford.

Avatar
bobbinogs replied to ROOTminus1 | 3 months ago
1 like

ROOTminus1 wrote:

...Why would anyone pay vehicle excise duty solely for an act of malicious compliance?

I would, happily, and I like the suggestion above about 'someone' doing some mindless graffiti on it.

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