Sunday, 2 November 2008

Mayo councillors up in arms over county plan reversal

County councillors in Mayo are to make a last-ditch attempt to persuade government planners that their new county plan - which allows for one-off housing - should not be reversed.

The councillors will present the case for their plan at a joint Oireachtas committee meeting on Tuesday.

The county development plan received the unanimous backing of the 31 councillors earlier this year. However, in July, environment minister John Gormley issued a directive to the council to ‘‘prioritise and develop residentially zoned lands in the Castlebar-Ballina hub over other locations in the county’’.

He said the council should ‘‘apply the appropriate planning policies . . . on sustainable rural housing, by reverting to the reasonable and pragmatic settlement policies in the draft development plan’’. Councillors were unhappy with the directive and sought legal advice on whether it could be challenged in the courts.

Fine Gael controls the county council and its whip on the authority, Paddy McGuinness, said solicitors had told them that current planning legislation gave the minister ‘‘absolute power’’.

‘‘We have been told it is unlikely to stand up to constitutional challenge and we will not waste the council’s money if that is the case. But this will affect councils all over the country when they go to submit their new six-year county development plan,” he said.

‘‘We are so angry, after two years of working on this plan, that the minister believes Mayo people should be herded into the towns of Ballina and Castlebar. Seventy per cent of the county’s population live outside of towns and villages in their own dwellings, and that is how it’s been in Ireland through the centuries,” said McGuinness.

The councillors have sought meetings with Gormley, but have not secured one to date. McGuinness and several other councillors will now make their case to environment and local authority officials at a joint Oireachtas committee on Tuesday.

‘‘The directive issued to Mayo county council is legally binding. Department officials will brief the committee about the directions to the council this week, and will listen to the councillors’ concerns, but there will be no meetings outside this,” said a spokesman for the department.

Sunday Business Post

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