Sunday 31 August 2008

Politicians push for Drogheda development planning probe

The former environment minister Dick Roche and a local politician have called for an inquiry into recent planning decisions in Co Meath, after a Dublin developer threatened to take a multi-million euro High Court case against Meath County Council.

Dick Roche, Minister of State, confirmed he had written to environment minister John Gormley last week calling for a formal investigation.

Serious allegations regarding the way in which the planning authority has operated were made to Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Roche, who has expressed deep concern.

The allegations were made after the recent publication of the South Drogheda Environs Local Area Plan.

‘‘I am aware of the concerns that have been raised,” said Roche. ‘‘I was reluctant to get directly involved in this affair because of a family connection, but having been approached by local public representatives I feel the complaints are serious and warrant investigation.”

Shane McEntee, Fine Gael TD, has also written to the Taoiseach calling for a planning inspector to be appointed. He wants the planning decisions made in Meath over the past ten years to be examined. It is understood that this suggestion is under serious consideration.

McEntee believes there has been a pattern of worrying decisions and said the proposed Local Area Plan would scupper ‘‘the chances of Drogheda United building a new 10,000 seater state-of-the-art stadium in east Meath, as planned. What has been going on is a disgrace,’’ McEntee said.

The directors of Drogheda United had agreed a deal with Dublin developer Bill Doyle, in which Doyle would build a new stadium close to lands he purchased in Bryanstown, south Drogheda, in exchange for their existing stadium at United Park. Doyle spent an estimated €110 million on buying approximately140 acres of land in Bryanstown in recent years.

Under the proposed planning strategy for the greater Drogheda area - commissioned by Drogheda Borough Council, Louth County Council and Meath County Council - the Bryanstown area was earmarked for large-scale development including residential homes.

Developers and councillors often work together to deliver common objectives and sources close to Doyle claimed he had been given verbal assurances by planners that the land would be zoned residential, in line with the planning strategy. This was also reiterated by a number of senior officials at Drogheda United. Doyle is now believed to be considering legal action.

On that basis Doyle bought up land in Bryanstown, which is about three miles south of Drogheda town. In a previous interview with this newspaper he said he had plans to build 2,500 houses, a stadium for Drogheda United, as well as four kilometres of road linking theN1 with theM1.

His lands will now be zoned for open space and light industrial use, according to the proposed Local Area Plan that has just been published.

Other landowners in Bryanstown claimed the proposed Local Area Plan was ‘‘very materially different’’ to the planning strategy outlined for the area. The strategy is not a statutory document, however. Vincent Hoey, Drogheda United chairman, expressed huge frustration at what he described as a ‘‘major setback for the club.

‘‘We were leading the way for soccer in Ireland. We have been delayed by the planners for years and the situation has become intolerable. We had an agreement with a developer and we were assured by local planners that we would get planning. For us, it is checkmate,” said Hoey.

A spokeswoman for Meath County Council said it was ‘‘not aware of any investigation currently taking place or pending’’. She added that the council was satisfied that the plan has been developed in accordance with all the statutory requirements.

Sunday Business Post

No comments: