A Wicklow County Council official has said he was responsible for switching a housing zoning in proposals for a Baltinglass local development plan, which benefited council member Edward Timmins and other members of the Timmins family, including Fine Gael foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins.
The council's director of services for planning, Des O'Brien, said he had made the change in the interests of proper planning and development and to consolidate development within the town of Baltinglass.
Mr O'Brien was commenting after councillors last week suspended standing orders to discuss the issue. Independent Baltinglass councillor Tommy Cullen called on Minister for the Environment John Gormley to launch an inquiry.
At the centre of the row is a map produced by planners as part of the drafting process of the Baltinglass local area plan.
The map, dated July 12th last, indicated that land belonging to the family of a local man, Cedric Hendy, was to be designated for housing.
However, a subsequent map dated July 26th indicated the Hendy designation had been switched to agricultural use or green space, while land belonging to the Timmins family, and a neighbouring site, was now designated for new housing.
Mr Cullen told The Irish Times the Hendy land was within 400 yards of the local GAA pitch, a school and a hospital. It was well served by mains drainage, he added.
However, he insisted the area taking in the Timmins lands would require a new bridge across the river Slaney before it could be developed.
The latter parcel of land was rezoned as part of the Baltinglass local area plan adopted on January 7th this year.
Councillor Edward Timmins told The Irish Times yesterday that at all times he declared his interest and absented himself from the vote on the plan.
In a statement he said: "At the county council meeting which discussed the Baltinglass draft plan on January 7th, I declared my interest in any land in Baltinglass and that of my family.
"Where any discussions involved any of these lands, or even land adjacent to these lands, I left the meeting. So I complied fully with all relevant ethics legislation, as I always have done.
"At the county council meeting in December I also declared my interest, but there was no discussion on the plan, just a short five-minute presentation by the planners. "Any zoning of any of the family land was done by the professional planners of Wicklow County Council."
Billy Timmins said his family's land was closer to the centre of town than the Hendy land. It had about 400 metres of road frontage and was served for sewerage and water.
Part of the family land currently had planning permission for 60 houses, he noted.
He also said the zoning proposal was made by the professional planners, "who explained that their preference was for zoning land on the western side of the town in order to encourage the construction of a bridge and ring road for the town".
The statement went on to say the proposals were in line with the views of the Baltinglass forum.
Mr O'Brien, who is the council's director of planning, confirmed the initiative for changing the draft plan had come from him. He said the switch was made in the very early stages before a formal draft plan was established and was done in the interests of proper planning.
A compass pinpointing the centre of Baltinglass would show the Timmins land was closer than the Hendy land, he added.
The Irish Times