Monday, 30 April 2007

‘Serious concerns’ about planning process

A PROMINENT Mayo businessman has voiced ‘serious concerns’ about the current planning system, which allows organisations like An Taisce to lodge objections and delay much-needed developments in rural areas.
Mr Noel Howley was this week granted permission for a new warehouse/delivery depot in Belgarrow, Foxford – nine months after Mayo County Council had initially granted permission.
“The new depot is badly needed because where we are currently located we could not expand. I was delighted when I got my planning permission from Mayo County Council but on the very last day they could object, An Taisce lodged an objection.
“I actually spoke to someone in An Taisce and he admitted to me that the only reason they lodged the objection was because the National Roads Authority did not. I’m stuck in the middle, I had to put my plans on hold for nearly a year,” said Mr Howley, who is Managing Director of Howley Distribution Services Ltd.
Mayo County Council had originally granted permission for the development but the decision was appealed by An Taisce to An Bord Pleanála. In their appeal, An Taisce criticised both Mayo County Council and the National Roads Authority, by stating that they are both failing to systemically implement policy which controls development along national roads where the maximum speed limit of 100km per hour applies. An Taisce also criticised the Council for being deficient in exercising its forward planning functions in zoning and designating development boundaries.
“I know people are entitled to voice their concerns in relation to planning and I have no problem with objections in general, as long as the objector is an
interested party. However, An Taisce had no real problem with my development, they just objected because they felt the NRA were not doing their job.
“Everyone was in agreement that the new site is a much better location than the old one and I’m glad common sense has prevailed in the end. But it can be very stressful, waiting and wondering if the development is going to be shot down at the very last minute.”
In their appeal, An Taisce also claimed that Mayo County Council had not evaluated this application properly, as all reports, with the exception of that of one Senior Executive Planner, had failed to address the relevant NRA or local authority national road development control policies.
Mayo County Council usually do not respond when an appeal is lodged with An Bord Pleanála but on this occasion they made a detailed response, with the County Manager Des Mahon listing six reasons why he chose not to accept the recommendation of his Senior Executive Planner.
The reasons were: the strategic nature of the proposed development to a significant geographic part of the county; an existing similar development adjoining the proposal; the proximity of the 60km/h speed limit sign; the suitability of the site for the proposed development; the recommendations/reports of the National Roads Authority, the Regional Design Office and the Roads Department of Mayo County Council, and the benefit to the town and the local community of the relocation of the existing business to a more appropriate site.
Mr Mahon agreed that the issue of a lack of local area plans is a valid one but he felt it was unfair to blame the Council due to a government embargo on public sector staff increases.
“Rather than wait two to three years for a Local Area Plan to be in place the proposal was assessed on its merits. The site is unlikely to be zoned anything other than commercial/industrial in any future plan given its location and adjoining uses,” said Mr Mahon.
Mr Howley also sent a response to the board, saying that the current location of Howley Distribution in Curradrish, Foxford was ‘totally unsuitable due to the continued growth of the business’.
Ms Emer Doyle was the planning inspector who adjudicated on the application and ultimately she felt the principle of the development was acceptable and was a ‘planning gain’ for the town of Foxford.
“I consider that the proposed development is acceptable having regard to the pattern of development in the vicinity and the proximity of the 60 km/h speed limit signs,” said Ms Doyle. Permission was given subject to eleven conditions, one of which means Mr Howley has to pay €4,000 to the County
Council to allow for the relocation of the town sign of Foxford and the extension of traffic route lighting in the vicinity of the application site.
Michael Duffy
© Mayo News

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