Friday 21 March 2008

An Irishman's Diary

TODAY is World Poetry Day, as designated by Unesco. So it seems as good a time as any to publish this curious document I found recently in a skip. Undated, but yellowing at the edges and clearly quite old, it appears to have originated in the offices of An Bord Pleanála, or possibly that body's predecessor.

Here's what it says:

Inspector's Report re. appeal against proposed erection of dwelling house at Innisfree, Co Sligo.

Planning Authority: Sligo County Council. Applicant: W.B. Yeats. Original decision: Permission granted.

1.0 Site Location: The site, of unspecified acreage, is on a small island in Lough Gill, a short distance south-east of Sligo town. Access is via boat, or by swimming. There are no public footpaths on the island, and no public lighting. However, the area around the lake has been the scene of considerable one-off housing, in some cases constituting ribbon development. The site is located among mature trees, with breaks in foliage affording spectacular views northwards to Ben Bulben.

2.0 Proposed Development: Permission is sought to erect a small, cabin-style dwelling (single occupancy) with adjoining bee-hive, and vegetable garden comprising nine bean rows. Main residence to be constructed of clay and wattles.

3.0 Status of site in development plan: Although the island is zoned for recreational use only, the applicant is exempt from this on the grounds of being a poet. However, the site is also in an area designated "sensitive landscape" and "visually vulnerable".

4.0 Planning Authority's Decision: Permission granted, subject to conditions, of which the following are most relevant:

1. Applicant to use bricks, rather than clay and wattles, which are not approved materials under the Planning Acts. Local stone and/or pebble-dash to be used as cladding.

2. Any member of local authority to be contacted for name of good builder.

3. Bean rows to be fenced off from public access.

4. Appropriate netting to be used in vicinity of bee-hive, with warning signs on approach routes.

5. Applicant to submit proposals re sewage disposal.

6. Applicant to produce evidence that he owns the site, or at least plans to purchase it before commencement of construction.

5.0 Grounds for appeal: The appeal by various third parties centres on the environmental impact of the development, the likelihood of it being the precursor to further one-off housing in the area, the vagueness of the proposed cabin's size and elevation, vagueness regarding the true extent of the bean garden, and finally the application's ambiguity about the number of bees planned.

The last issue is of particular concern for several appellants. One party called into question the wording of the original application, which proposed "a hive for the honey bee". As the appellant put it: "Barring the unlikely event that the applicant keeps a pet bee, he almost certainly envisages having more than one insect in the planned facility. If he is not being upfront on this issue, how can we trust him on bigger questions? When he refers to a single 'hive', for example, is that also poetic licence?"

Other appellants referred to the applicant's stated wish to live "in the bee-loud glade" as further evidence of his long-term plans. Apart from the issue of noise pollution, this suggested that, once established, his honey-making operation would be on a commercial scale. Such plans would also explain his reference to standing "on the roadway, or on the pavements grey", since, as a number of appellants pointed out, the site is currently devoid of infrastructure.

6.0 Observations: A local conservation group expressed concern at the general tenor of the application, viz: "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree/ And a small cabin build there". It is suggested that, notwithstanding his apparent co-operation with the planning process, the applicant intends to commence construction unilaterally and, if necessary, apply for retention afterwards.

7.0 Responses from first party: Responding to the various objections, the applicant spoke cryptically of ambition since his teenage years to live "in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree" - an ambition that had suddenly returned to him during a bout of homesickness in London. This explained his reference to "pavements". He declined to elaborate on the other issues raised by objectors.

8.0 Assessment: A search of the archives reveals no evidence of a prior planning application on the island, by a Mr Thoreau or anybody else. The applicant's proposal would therefore appear to set a precedent for development in a highly sensitive area. The apparent modesty of his plans must be offset against their wilful vagueness, not just on the question of bees. The inspector also notes the contrast between the applicant's precision vis-à-vis the quantity of bean-rows and his marked silence about their length. After all, nine bean rows strung across the entire island could feed a small village.

The applicant's desire to use clay and wattles in the construction of the main dwelling shows admirable, if exaggerated, sympathy to the west of Ireland setting. However, it also exposes the unrealistic nature of the development, especially combined with his stated ambition "to have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow". Peace is not the only thing that comes dropping in Ireland, as the applicant would soon remember when he moved into his mud hut.

9.0 Recommendation: The decision of the local authority to be overturned and permission refused.

Applicant to be advised that he has been in London too long.

The Irish Times

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