SERIAL objectors to planning applications in Waterford have been urged to look at the bigger picture as the city faces a downturn in construction.
It was claimed that delaying or halting proposed developments had an impact on employment in the city.
The call came from Councillor Hilary Quinlan, chairman of Waterford City Council’s strategic policy committee on planning and economic development.
He reported to the council on a recent fact-finding trip to Wales where committee members saw, at first hand, the adverse impact uncontrolled out-of-town development can have on city centres.
Mr Quinlan said: “It is more important than ever in the current economic climate that Waterford plays as a united team.
“We simply cannot afford to continue sending out the signal that we’re not fully open for business,; effectively telling developers that they’ll face a tougher time here than in other Irish cities like Limerick, Galway and Cork that we compete with for investment.
“I know from my own terms as mayor of Waterford and meeting people in other parts of the country that the city has earned an unfortunate reputation among developers as a ‘tough nut to crack’ and somewhere that throws up an unusually high number of often frivolous objections and appeals that delay and —– in some cases —– kill worthwhile projects.
This is also evident from the number of Waterford developers now concentrating on other locations in Ireland and overseas.
“From meeting individuals and families around Waterford, I am very aware that the recession is already biting here.
“It is young people and those working in the construction sector or related industries that seem to be taking some of the worst hits in terms of job losses.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the social and economic future of Waterford depends on us attracting significant inward investment of the type envisaged by various schemes proposed for sites in the city.
“Rather than seeking to welcome and facilitate these once they comply with the wider vision for how the city should develop, a small minority of people seem intent on stymieing these projects in favour of the status quo. Some even seem to favour winding back the clock to what they see as the city’s glorious past.”
He said towns like Wexford, Clonmel, Carlow and Kilkenny will put pressure on Waterford’s place in the regional hierarchy.
“These and other locations in the southeast have all had significant retail, leisure and other development during the last five years or so and aren’t content to rest on their laurels or allow Waterford a free run.
“Indeed, some of the developments in south county Kilkenny and east county Waterford that attracted little or no attention from our planning zealots will have an increasing impact on our city centre which is already struggling to maintain its appeal.”
He added: “I have no difficulty whatsoever with people actively engaging in how planning applications are dealt with and there is a very clear pathway for them to do that.
“What I do, however, strongly oppose is the idea that we must have some kind of parallel planning process where those looking to invest in our city are forced through hoops by self-appointed, unelected and unrepresentative planning watchdogs seeking to win long-lost battles and score points for their own petty purposes.
“They seem to regard An Bord Pleanála as the obvious first stop for their grievances rather than a last resort for appeals in cases where there is a genuine concern that the planning authority has erred,” he concluded.