The Monaghan County Development plan is at risk of collapse following the decision of county councillors to continue to rezone land in defiance of warnings from Minister for the Environment Dick Roche.
A letter written last month on behalf of Mr Roche to county manager Declan Nelson threatened to scrap the development plan because councillors had rezoned enough land to almost triple the population of the county and create serious flooding risks.
Mr Roche warned that unless the plan was changed, the council could be forced to adopt a plan devised for it by the department.
Councillors yesterday continued to allocate extra land for development against the advice of the county manager. However, in what could be seen as a concession to the Minister, the councillors supported the manager's recommendation to reject two proposals from Fine Gael councillor Hugh McElvaney to rezone land near the village of Inniskeen.
County development plans are initially devised by council planners in line with national guidelines in relation to housing, spatial and planning strategies, and are usually amended by councillors before they ratify the plan.
However, councillors' amendments to the Monaghan plan adopting a large number of additional rezonings prompted Mr Roche's letter, which accused them of "sporadic and haphazard zoning".
The councillors' amendments "seriously compound an already ambitious level of zoning at over 40 locations", the letter said. Enough land had already been allocated to potentially increase the population of Monaghan, which stood at 55,800 in 2006, by 100,000. On a national strategic level, the projected population increase for the county was equal to that planned by the Government for the entire Border region, which includes counties Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Sligo and Monaghan, up to the year 2020, the letter said.
While the Minister's letter was not discussed at yesterday's meeting, Mr McElvaney accused him of undue interference in the planning process.
"Roche, Dick, is against the development of villages the way we want them," he said.
Councillors yesterday voted to again amend the plan to remove the planners' restrictions on the number of houses that could be built in certain villages using a single planning application.
Eighteen of the 20 councillors voted for the amendment that eased the restriction that only 40 houses could be applied for by a developer at any one time.
Independent councillor Vincent P Martin and mayor of Monaghan Pádraig McNally voted against the amendment.
Mr Martin said that allowing more than 40 houses per application was beyond local requirements and would only serve commuters travelling outside the county. "A block of 40 houses is an estate," he said. The council also voted to zone land from "recreation and amenity" and from "local landscape protection area" to development use.
The council has until March 30th to finish amending the development plan. It is likely that the Minister will then review the plan before deciding whether to take further action.
© 2007 The Irish Times