Tuesday 19 August 2008

Planners to clamp down on new homes in risky areas

New developments will be allowed in areas at risk of flooding only in exceptional circumstances, under strict new government guidelines.

The planning guidelines will not place an outright ban on building on flood plains, but will mean that new developments will only get approval with strong justification.

The move came as Environment Minister John Gormley donned a pair of wellies to visit Carlow town, where flooding has left residents angry over the decade-long delay to works to prevent flooding.

The minister last night vowed to fast-track a €30m flood-relief scheme in Carlow as a massive clean-up operation continued. Mr Gormley promised the tightening of government spending would not affect the project.

The Carlow flood-relief scheme has been designed and approved and is awaiting to go out to tender.

"It is important now that we proceed as quickly as possible with these flood-relief measures," said Mr Gormley.

He admitted that the administrative delays with the tendering of contracts for the schemes were "unacceptable".

"That's why I did give an absolute commitment to the council that we will ensure that money is made available and it happens."

The minister said he hoped these difficulties would be resolved in the short-term.


Mr Gormley also said his department would issue guidelines to ensure "proper planning" takes place in future where there are buildings in areas with a history of flooding.

A spate of flooding incidents in recent weeks has raised concerns that over-development may have caused some of the damage, as storm drains struggle to cope.

Under new guidelines, unless it can be proved to local authorities that flooding will not arise because of building on flood plains, planning permission is to be refused.

And local authorities will have to identify the flooding risk on areas of land they wish to rezone for development.

The planning acts already provide a local authority with the power to limit development in areas at risk, but the new procedures will provide clarity, a spokesman from the Department of the Environment said yesterday.

"We're providing clarity for planning authorities in assessing flooding risk," he said. "If you take a major urban centre and there's a town centre at risk of flooding, we're not blocking the local authority from considering development, but they must consider what to build -- not a hospital or sewerage treatment works, but maybe a car park."

The guidelines, drawn up by the Department of the Environment and Office of Public Works, will be published in the coming weeks, before going out for public consultation.

Last night, Labour's environment spokesperson Joanna Tuffy said that Carlow was just one of many towns in Ireland where flood relief works were "put on the long finger" and accused the Government of taking its "eye off the ball".

Mr Gormley refused to take responsibility for the problems in Carlow, stating that his department was not the agency which dealt with flooding. "That's the OPW (Office of Public Works). I think Minister Martin Mansergh will be back at the end of the week," he told the Irish Independent.

Paul Melia and Eimear Ni Bhraonain
Irish Independent


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