Friday 16 May 2008

Mayo Plan to halt rural decline now in Minister's hands

MAYO County Council's last ditch effort to create a County Development Plan designed to halt rural decline could be shelved by the Department of the Environment.

At a special meeting last Tuesday, Director of Services Joe Loftus told the authority that the five-year plan must comply with regional, national and local levels, the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) and Government policy'.

But councillors voted in favour of adopting amendments to enable the increase of one-off houses in rural areas even though the move does not toe the line with the sustainable housing policy, regional planning guidelines or the NSS.

The amendments were originally added in spite of strong opposition from the authority's legal advisor Michael Browne and senior planner lain Douglas.

The adoption now leaves the door open for the rejection of the plan by Environment Minister John Gormley TD in favour of his own replacement. Should this happen, it would be the first time a Government Minister interjected in the development plan of this county.

Fine Gael Party Whip, Cllr Paddy McGuinness.and Fianna Fail councillor, Al McDonnell, joined forces to deliver the plan at the final review stage last week.

Cllr McGuinness suggested a tape of the entire meeting be sent to the Minister to emphasise the strong views on rural decline in the chamber. He referred to the original draft plan as 'flawed' as it was compiled for cities and towns.

He said the Council recommended 96 submissions, accepted 62 and rejected 24 from the Manager's Report.

The Castlebar-based councillor cited a submission by An Taisce, as 'impinging on councillors' rights' and referred to the conservation body's claim that amendments were 'deliberately introduced'. "That is outside the bounds of what is acceptable by way of submission. It is not good enough that An Taisce are able to abuse the system in this way."

The Whip stated that proposed one-off houses will comply with council-designed standards and cannot have a negative impact on the landscape.

Speaking on behalf of his party, Cllr Al McDonnell labelled suggestions made by David Walsh, Principal Spatial Officer of Department of Environment, as 'false and in need of challenge'.

He refuted claims that rural housing causes water quality problems, saying: "The Environmental Protection Agency, Mayo County Council and the Fisheries Board water study of Lough Conn concluded that 96 per cent of pollution problems were from a source other than rural housing. Just 4.3 per cent is from rural sewage and town sewage accounts for 3.6 per cent."

The five-year residency clause was also a bone of contention for elected members and was set out as another example of how the plan neglected to address the problem of rural decline in the West and other regions.

Mayo News

No comments: