Wednesday 6 February 2008

Bord rejects Dunboyne business park plan

Planning & Development Plans to create over 2,000 jobs in a new business park at Dunboyne, Co Meath, have been thwarted by An Taisce despite securing the unanimous support of members of Meath County Council.

The first phase of the proposed Royal Gateway Business Park was to have included a mix of office and light industrial buildings on a 42-acre site at Piersetown, Dunboyne. The park, designed on broadly similar lines to Citywest, would eventually extend to 120 acres and be accessed from a roundabout on a new distributor road parallel to the N3. The promoters had undertaken to operate a shuttle bus on the 1km trip between the park and the proposed Pace railway station and park-and-ride facility which are due to open within two years as part of the new Dublin-Dunboyne railway service.

Coca Cola was to have anchored the park with a new Irish headquarters and distribution centre that was expected to employ several hundred people. Overall, the promoters had agreed sale terms on almost 80 per cent of the planned 92,900sq m (1 million sq ft) of buildings due to be completed over the next three years.

All 26 members of Meath County Council, on the advice of the county planners, voted in favour of a material contravention of the county development plan to rezone the Dunboyne site for a business park because of the need to create jobs in the county. Permission was granted last June but An Taisce lodged an objection on the grounds that the park "would lead to the creation of an unsustainable car-based development".

An Bord Pleanála refused permission for the park, saying that it would be prejudicial to the preparation and adoption of the integrated framework plan for land use and transportation for the Clonsilla-Pace corridor and the Dunboyne-Clonee-Pace local area plan.

The board also pointed out that the proposed development had no specific locational requirements which necessitated its location at this "rural, unzoned and unserviced location". The board did not mention that the proposed site is within the Ashbourne-Ratoath-Dunshaughlin "dynamic cluster" and will have access to several forms of public transport.

Meath Council Council has been running a national campaign in recent years to attract industry to the county after a study showed that an inordinate proportion of the local population has to travel to Dublin daily to work. Meath has the lowest jobs ratio of all counties in the mid-east region at 0.49 jobs per worker in the county.

Thousands of Dublin-based families have relocated to Meath towns and villages in recent years to avail of lower house prices. The result is that all roads between Meath and Dublin are heavily congested in the mornings and evenings with workers living in Navan frequently spending over two hours commuting to the capital.

Apart from Tara Mines which employs workers from several eastern counties, Navan no longer has any major industries following the closure of most of the local furniture factories. In the 1980s Navan had more than 30 furniture factories which eventually went out of business because of cheap imports mainly from the Far East. Another big employer, Navan Carpets, also closed for the same reason and the site of the factory now serves as a retail park.

Apart from the urgent need for rates revenue from commercial enterprises to allow it maintain and expand its services, Meath County Council has watched Fingal County Council approve substantial commercial developments right up to the Meath border while it has been debarred from allowing similar schemes only a few miles away.

The Menolly Group and the Peters family, who plan to develop the Royal Gateway Business Park on a joint venture basis, will be reapplying for permission for the proposed Dunboyne facility, arguing that the huge investment in the upgraded road network and the new railway service have been made precisely to allow workers to take up employment in the county rather than travel to Dublin.

Brian Fitzgerald, former TD and chairman of Meath County Council, said the board's decision did not make any sense in view of the planned opening of the rail service and a new road system. With an estimated 70 to 75 per cent of Meath workers commuting daily to jobs in Dublin, the council had been applauded by a number of ministers for its efforts to attract new businesses into the county.

Significantly, the National Roads Authority made an observation to Meath County Council about the park but after explanations were provided they did not object to An Bord Pleanála. "Nobody objected except An Taisce and they lobbed in an objection at 27 minutes past five on the last day of 28 allowed for an appeal." Some members of the council believe that An Taisce's decision to object to the Dunboyne facility stems from its costly and unsuccessful campaign to block the building of the M3 Clonee-to-Kells motorway near the Hill of Tara.

The Irish Times

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