Wednesday 3 November 2010

Councillors sharply critical of Minister

WICKLOW COUNTY councillors have criticised Minister of State for Planning Ciarán Cuffe (Green Party) over a letter he sent to the council warning the local authority that elements of its county development plan may need to be amended.

At a meeting of Wicklow County Council yesterday, councillors agreed on a draft response to the Minister over his correspondence, which made reference to a number of zonings along the N11 route. In particular, it made reference to the granting of planning permission for a six-building data centre on a site adjacent to Mount Kennedy House, near Newtownmountkennedy.

Mr Cuffe is concerned that the location of the proposed data centre could “significantly undermine” the role of “higher order” employment centres in the county. The letter also reminds councillors that “local authorities have a duty when making/amending plans to ensure that the future development of their areas is based on sound planning principles”.

Fianna Fáil councillor Pat Vance supported the draft response circulated to members, which, he said, gave a “simple explanation” to the Minister for each of the county’s zoning decisions.

“Minister Cuffe couldn’t actually stand over his own development plan in his constituency in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where they built the Carrickmines shopping centre out in the middle of nowhere, where there was no public transport or anything . . . and we in Wicklow have no major shopping centres or industrial development along the N11,” he said.

Fine Gael councillor Derek Mitchell also supported the response to the Department of the Environment and told the council he believed the Minister “is trying to prevent jobs coming to Wicklow”. The county was “one of the best” regions in Ireland as regards sound planning, he added.

At yesterday’s meeting, councillors were also given a presentation by Brian McDonagh, a backer of the data centre project, which was granted permission by the council but has now been appealed to An Bord Pleanála by the National Roads Authority (NRA).

Mr McDonagh told members that more than 2,000 jobs would be created in the construction of the centre, which would provide data storage for some of the world’s biggest IT companies, and thousands more jobs would be provided for the county in spin-off businesses.

The project, which is to be the largest of its kind in the world, would “not be carbon neutral, but will be carbon negative”, and would firmly establish Ireland’s green economy credentials, he said. It would also provide local businesses and homes with energy.

However, Mr McDonagh warned that if planning objections were not resolved “within the next three months”, the project would be lost.

In its appeal, to which Mr Cuffe refers in his correspondence with the council, the NRA has told An Bord Pleanála that the plan would be “at variance with official policy” and is “contrary” to Wicklow’s development plan. The NRA also says traffic assessment studies submitted as part of the plans are “inadequate”.

However, Mr McDonagh said yesterday that any traffic impact would be minimal.

Fianna Fáil councillor Pat Casey expressed “anger” at the NRA. He also said he was “disappointed” with his party’s Ministers who, he said, were “running away” from organisations created by them.

Irish Times

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