Saturday 10 November 2007

‘Too many permissions given’ for one-off rural houses

TOO many one-off rural houses are getting planning permission on sites unable to deal with the sewage that would be generated by the occupants, the country’s leading planning officials have warned.

An Bord Pleanála, the planning appeals board, said some local authorities granted permission without insisting on soil drainage tests that would show whether the land could sustain a septic tank or if the toilets were likely to pollute the groundwater used for drinking.

“Even where they the results are received, they [local authorities] do not seem to be making a proper assessment of the tests. We regard this as highly unsatisfactory,” said the board’s chairman John O’Connor.

Some 57% of groundwater tested by the Environmental Protection Agency is contaminated by traces of sewage and Mr O’Connor linked this worrying level of pollution with the 15,000-17,000 one-off rural houses built each year.

He said the scale of this type of development was unmatched anywhere else in Europe and a third of all such cases that ended up appealed to An Bord Pleanála were refused permission because of the risk of pollution.

Mr O’Connor said developers were also receiving permission for housing schemes in areas without main drainage systems and were relying instead on private waste water plants.

“This can be problematic because it leaves the question of who is responsible for the future maintenance of these plants. We have come across bad examples where they have not been maintained.”

In a series of criticisms of local authorities, the chairman also highlighted the failure of councils to draw up policies on high-rise developments. “These buildings can have a profound effect on the character of cities and towns. It’s only reasonable that they [local authorities] would have clearly articulated policies formulated after public consultation instead of making decisions on an ad hoc basis.”

Mr O’Connor said it would be inappropriate to name specific examples but An Bord Pleanála last month overturned permission granted for two buildings reaching 53 storeys in the Liberties area of Dublin and the millionaire developer, Sean Dunne, has run into strong public opposition to his plans for a 37-storey development in Ballsbridge.

“We seem to have situations where we have a lot of tension between developers and their architects on the one hand and local councillors representing the views of the public on the other,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The board would like to see local authorities clarify more what they would like to see in relation to high-rise.”

He also warned local authorities to get their zonings in order, saying too many tracts of land were zoned for developments unsuited to the area.

He said the board would overturn permissions in these cases regardless of whether developers sued for compensation. “Zoning should be a clear indication that permission will be forthcoming for the type of development specified.”

Irish Examiner

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