Meath County Council has upheld the Architectural Conservation Area (ACA) designation of 299 hectares (718 acres) of land around Headfort House, outside Kells, following the withdrawal of an amendment to reduce it by more than 90 per cent.
The proposed reduction, tabled by Cllr John Farrelly (FG), had been adopted by 14 votes to three at a special council meeting last month when councillors were considering amendments to the draft Meath county development plan.
However, following objections by An Taisce, the Irish Georgian Society, Headfort Golf Club and local residents, Cllr Farrelly told the latest council meeting that he was not pursuing the proposal to reduce the size of Headfort ACA.
He complained about media coverage, including a report in The Irish Times last Tuesday which stated that a local landowner had offered Headfort Trust - which owns the internationally important house - €1 million if it did not object.
Trust chairman Dick Blakiston Houston described this allegation as "totally unfounded" and said the trust had submitted its own objection to Cllr Farrelly's proposal, with the aim of preserving the setting and visas of Headfort House.
Dermot Dix, headmaster of Headfort School, a private prep school which has been based in the house for more than 50 years, said: "We are all very pleased that the council has swiftly rejected Cllr Farrelly's proposal".
Cllr Michael Gallagher (SF) said it was clear that councillors who had originally supported the proposal "shied away from it" as a result of media coverage. "The article in The Irish Times played a major part in getting it changed."
On the wider issue of zoning under the Meath development plan, now officially adopted, the county council must now await the reaction of the Department of the Environment, which made it clear that too much land was being zoned.
In a submission on the plan, the department said "very firm measures" were required - including "dezoning" land in "unsuitable and unserviced locations" - if growth was to be managed "sustainably" towards a population of 180,000.
Given that the plan allows for an increase to a population of 210,000 by 2013, it would be open to Minister for the Environment Dick Roche to issue a directive under the 2000 Planning Act to require it to be brought into line with the department's wishes. Frank McDonald
© 2007 The Irish Times