COUNTY councillors will no longer be able to overturn expert advice and grant planning permission in areas at risk of flooding.
New planning guidelines due to be published soon will force councillors to adhere to national policy when granting permission.
This will, in effect, strip them of the power to compel county managements to allow areas at risk of flooding to be built on.
This is sure to anger councillors, who are already claiming their powers are being eroded. Elected members can currently invoke a section 140, which orders the county or city manager to grant permission for particular developments, even against best advice.
But the new laws will mean they will no longer be able to legally do so.
Last month, Environment Minister John Gormley said that, under the new guidelines, development would only be allowed in exceptional circumstances in areas at risk of flooding.
These will not place an outright ban on building on floodplains, but will mean that new developments will only get approval with strong justification.
Last month, two Midlands councils zoned a floodplain on the outskirts of a town centre for development -- despite warnings from the Office of Public Works about flood risks.
Offaly County Council and Tullamore Town Council proposed a multi-million euro scheme to develop the Grand Canal Quarter in Tullamore, an area which is prone to flooding. A majority of councillors backed the plans, just weeks before the new guidelines are due to be announced.
Planning sources said yesterday that councillors often relied on flood risk reports from consultants who were also employed by the developers seeking planning permission.
"A consultant will always say flooding won't happen because they're paid to say so," one said. "Landowners tend to be relentless in seeking permission -- they keep coming back again and again."
The planning guidelines follow on claims that developments are being allowed in locations with known flood risks.
In one case, planning permission was granted for a one-off house in Co Galway, even though photographs were submitted with the site under water.
And Galway-based developers Oyster Homes has sought planning permission for the second time for a large development in Carrick on Shannon, even though the site is at risk of flooding, while new homes built in Co Limerick could be at risk of being washed away because they are so close to the river bank.
Chief executive of the Northern Fisheries Board, Harry Lloyd, said yesterday that the widespread flooding that hit Carlow was because large parts of the floodplain were built upon in the 1960s.
There was no excuse for not knowing if land was prone to flooding as risk assessment maps could be built quite easily, he said.