Monaghan County Council is being directed by Minister for the Environment John Gormley to rescind land rezoning decisions taken by councillors against planning advice when they adopted the county development plan last March.
Using his powers under Section 31 of the 2000 Planning Act, the Minister has issued a formal direction instructing the council to amend its development plan "in the interests of ensuring the future sustainable development of the county".
He concluded that the Monaghan County Development Plan 2007-2013, as adopted, "does not support the objectives of the National Spatial Strategy, the Regional Planning Guidelines for the Border Region or the Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines".
Accordingly, Mr Gormley had decided to act within the rarely used powers conferred on him under the 2000 Planning Act "to protect the national interest and ensure proper planning and sustainable development" by issuing his direction.
It requires the council to rescind rezonings in 29 villages by reverting to the zonings set out in the draft development plan drawn up by the county planners in March 2006, and to make the necessary amendments to the Co Monaghan housing strategy.
The council must comply with this direction by the council by amending its development plan as instructed. The 2000 Act states that, in exercising their powers, the county manager and councillors cannot do so in conflict with the terms of the direction.
"Councils have a duty and obligation, when making development plans, to ensure that the greater common good will prevail from their decisions and that the future development of their areas is based on sound planning principles," the Minister said.
His action follows the rejection of submissions by his department raising serious concerns about the level of zoned land proposed in the plan - enough to cater for a 182 per cent increase in Co Monaghan's population over its six-year term.
In a letter to the council, Mr Gormley said the rationale for this level of population increase, which would be equivalent to the projected population growth for the entire Border region in the period from now until 2020, "cannot be substantiated".
He pointed out that this was not consistent with his department's development plan guidelines, which state that the level of zoned land should be based on an objective assessment of future development and population increase.
"The practice of zoning for residential development in a sporadic and haphazard fashion in random greenfield sites, which extend outwards from villages and do not have the necessary services . . . does not conform with proper planning principles and is not sustainable."
Although the council had omitted proposed rezonings in areas prone to flooding, such as Ballybay, it upheld numerous others. The leading opponent was Cllr Vincent P Martin, then an independent, who ran as a Green Party candidate in last May's general election.
The Minister also expressed his dissatisfaction with the council's rejection of the department's advice to use the distinction between Clár and non-Clár areas as a basis for distinguishing between weaker rural areas and others under strong urban influence.
"This omission runs counter to the Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines, which recommend that a more selective approach to the granting of one-off planning permissions should be applied to rural areas under strong urban pressure," he said.
A balance needed to be struck "between facilitating rural communities to meet their own internal housing requirements by allowing a certain number of new dwellings and avoiding large-scale and widespread suburbanisation of the countryside", Mr Gormley added.
The council has also been told to adopt "appropriate planning policies" to areas surrounding Monaghan town, Carrickmacross and Castleblayney which are under urban pressure.
Clár is an investment programme for rural areas in 18 counties which suffered the greatest population decline from 1926 to 2002.
© 2007 The Irish Times