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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.”

> “A valuable part of the city will be lost” if cycle lane plans remove car parking spaces, artists claim

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
ktache replied to jarpots | 3 months ago
3 likes

Good luck with that Jarpots.
So very James Bond.
And seeing the relatively high income of some of the users of this site, you may have caused some interest.

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chrisonabike replied to ktache | 3 months ago
0 likes

New and helpful use for potholes, innit?

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Daclu Trelub replied to chrisonabike | 3 months ago
2 likes

chrisonabike wrote:

New and helpful use for potholes, innit?

How many would fit in the Albert Hall, do you think?

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chrisonabike replied to Daclu Trelub | 3 months ago
3 likes

Daclu Trelub wrote:

chrisonabike wrote:

New and helpful use for potholes, innit?

How many would fit in the Albert Hall, do you think?

You'd have to ask wtjs, they're closer to Blackburn, Lancashire.  Probably hidden under untaxed vehicles with no MOT there though so that's more work.

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Rendel Harris replied to jarpots | 3 months ago
2 likes

Looks fabulous...but I notice the website says not a word about price, perhaps you could enlighten us? I'm guessing with the structural works plus a hydraulic platform it's not going to be much shy of thirty grand?

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Hirsute replied to Rendel Harris | 3 months ago
2 likes

How do you get it dry ?
And how quickly does it fill with water when you come home in torrential rain?

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Sriracha replied to Hirsute | 3 months ago
2 likes

I guess it would need a soakaway beneath it. But things could still remain pretty dank down there - perhaps not ideal for a steel frame?

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Rendel Harris replied to Sriracha | 3 months ago
1 like

Sriracha wrote:

I guess it would need a soakaway beneath it. But things could still remain pretty dank down there - perhaps not ideal for a steel frame?

Perhaps the manufacturer will clarify but I'd guess with a hydraulic system and electrics down there too the hole would have to be properly tanked with concrete, so you'd in effect be building a basement in your front yard - which could lead to many planning headaches not to mention huge costs.

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wycombewheeler replied to Hirsute | 3 months ago
0 likes

Hirsute wrote:

How do you get it dry ? And how quickly does it fill with water when you come home in torrential rain?

Would need to be set above the ground water level and allowed to drain into the ground. If it were above ground water level, there would be a problem of resisting floatation for the concrete chamber.

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chrisonabike replied to jarpots | 3 months ago
3 likes

The more I look at this the more I'm thinking there must be room for a environmentally aware, suburban version of Thunderbirds.

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Chrissk replied to jarpots | 3 months ago
2 likes

How can I fit five bikes in that?

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hawkinspeter replied to jarpots | 3 months ago
0 likes

jarpots wrote:

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.

That looks very cool and desirable, but I can't see that many people are going to spring money for that when they could easily buy a cheap shed instead. Good luck with it, though

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wycombewheeler replied to jarpots | 3 months ago
0 likes

how does this work if my driveway is at an angle of about 10 degrees?

What about buried services? there will be gas, electricty, water and sewage pipes between the house and the road, missing all of them could be a challenge, so some are likely to need diversion.

Is the top rated for vehicle loading, or do I have to ensure I don't drive over it? If it is vehicle loaded, iwhat surface is provided for good grip, in the wet, or in the winter?

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Hirsute replied to wycombewheeler | 3 months ago
4 likes

You park over it so no one can nick your bike !

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wycombewheeler replied to Hirsute | 3 months ago
0 likes

Hirsute wrote:

You park over it so no one can nick your bike !

so I need to move the car (in my cleats) every time I want to get a bike out?

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Hirsute replied to wycombewheeler | 3 months ago
0 likes

If you want to keep it safe.

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brooksby | 3 months ago
3 likes

Quote:

provided that: It is not forward of the front wall of the house

On the face of it, it looks like she may have misunderstood what the council were saying (and that she misunderstood it in her own favour is purely coincidental).

The Man on the Dublin Omnibus would presume that 'the front wall of the house' means 'The front wall.  Of the house.'  Not 'the front wall or other fence style thing marking the forward boundary of your property'.  I think.

Meaning: 'any shed must be behind your house', not 'any shed must be on your property' (which I would have thought went without saying).

 

All that being said, the proposed fine seems a little harsh… 

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Paul J | 3 months ago
3 likes

Clearly the problem with this shed is it lacks the required wheels to fit in with the "ambience". That problem is easily solved with a couple of hundred quid to buy a knackered old van.

Also lads, there's no SORN in Ireland. You make a declaration of non-use of motor vehicle to the Motor Tax Office. Sheesh.

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wtjs replied to Paul J | 3 months ago
7 likes

Also lads, there's no SORN in Ireland

There's no SORN in Lancashire either. Or MOT, if you have a private arrangement with the police. As driver J Whitaker Agricultural Services and Groundworks 07766 076612 well knows- which is why he can park most nights outside the pub in Garstang, 150 yards from the police station

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HoarseMann | 3 months ago
9 likes

Having a quick snoop on streetview, it seems many of the properties on this road have done garage conversions or extended the width of the house up to the boundary, completely removing external access to the rear garden! (including this property)

As a result, there's nowhere to store vehicles but outside and the only place to store the collection of wheelie bins is in the front garden.

Many have built bin stores and there are other questionable building choices on the street, not least the glazed gable end of the next door property. Plus, another very odd looking front extension where there's a huge window straight into the dining room, that makes the house look like a restaurant!

So, whilst I think they have breached the planning regulations, it seems petty to penalise them given what some of the other neighbours have done. It's a shame they didn't just replace the shed with a Sheffield stand to lock the bikes to, then thrown a cover over - maybe one in a lurid colour that rustles in the wind.

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D.Railleur | 3 months ago
10 likes

Buy an old van, park it in your front garden, declare it Sorn. Lovely bike shed which fits in with the rest of the street scene full of cars/vans. Win win.

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bobbinogs replied to D.Railleur | 3 months ago
7 likes

Yepp, sad but true.  The car centric society won't see this as a problem whereas an actual bike shed is up there on the list of 'Things that make my blood boil' with 20mph speed limits and LTNs.

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IanMSpencer replied to D.Railleur | 3 months ago
0 likes

40 School Rd
https://www.google.com/maps/@52.231094,-1.837221,3a,75.0y,355.40463h,79.33915t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1spDYEp_2bZq-vH7rPx99RCQ!2e0

Unmoved in at least a decade. Probably the most exciting thing happening in Great Alne aside from drying paint.

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cyclisto | 3 months ago
4 likes

Buy an messed up EV van that pays no road tax for the time being, cheapest possible car insurance pay by the mile, park it on the road on the side of your neighbor you resent.

Draw flowers with a spray on it to mark your win.

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wycombewheeler replied to cyclisto | 3 months ago
3 likes

cyclisto wrote:

Buy an messed up EV van that pays no road tax for the time being, cheapest possible car insurance pay by the mile, park it on the road on the side of your neighbor you resent.

Draw flowers with a spray on it to mark your win.

outside the house of the objector to the cycle shed. Graffiti on the side "I wasn't allowed a shed, so I bought this van"

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Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
5 likes

Whilst I find current planning laws and the contractiction between being able store a tonne or more of metal on your drive and not being able to have a small bike store bonkers, Im not feeling much sympathy for the woman.

First - she's milking it.  "  I sold my bikes "

Second - She checked and was clearly told she couldnt have anything forward of the front wall of her house (note - not the boundary wall), but she went and did it anyway.

Play me the worlds tiniest violin.

Avatar
Sriracha replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
2 likes

Moreover, from the photos there did used to be a garage, but it's been converted to living accommodation. If they now find they need garaging for bicycles after all, not too much sympathy. It's not about lack of space, it's about making choices.

Avatar
Daclu Trelub replied to Sriracha | 3 months ago
0 likes

Sriracha wrote:

Moreover, from the photos there did used to be a garage, but it's been converted to living accommodation. If they now find they need garaging for bicycles after all, not too much sympathy. It's not about lack of space, it's about making choices.

I'd think that was the granny flat for her mother before the clog-popping occurred.

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evilcherry | 3 months ago
5 likes

Just put that on a cart, chained down. The cartwheels and axles don't even need to be functional.

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Ocib | 3 months ago
18 likes

Just do what someone around here did.  They were refused planning permission for a cycle store on their front drive as "it wasn't in keeping with the traditional style of houses".  So they bought an old Transit van, parked it on the drive, did dome modifications to the body work to secure it.  As the vehicle was SORNed and parked legally on private property, there was nothing that the neighbours could do.

They did complain to the council, but the the council stated that as the vehicle was legal , there was nothing they could do.

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