LIMERICK politicians last night voted through one of the most controversial land zonings outside of Dublin in the face of dire warnings of the legal risk they were taking for themselves and Limerick County Council.
By 12 votes to three (there were six abstentions) members of the county council ignored legal advice and amended the county manager’s Adare local area plan, rezoning more than 50 acres of agricultural land for housing.
Sites in Adare are among the most expensive in the country and, at the height of the boom, a prime half-acre plot fetched €1.3 million.
Last night’s rezoning will drive up the value of 50 acres from €2.5m to €25m. The council’s legal adviser, William Leahy, told the council members they could expose the council and themselves to compensation and surcharges as the land would now rise from €50,000 an acre to €500,000.
He said a developer could take action if, at a future time, An Bord Pleanála refused planning permission on land zoned by the council as residential.
Councillor John Clifford (FF), seconded by Councillor Richard Butler (FG), moved the amendment to rezone. Mr Clifford said they had good planning reasons to rezone as there was currently insufficient building land in Adare.
Adare councillor, James Cavanagh (FF) supported the rezoning and denied that it would harm the heritage of Adare. The other Adare council member, Councillor Rose Brennan (PD) was not present.
The council’s director of planning Tom Enright said the rezoning would not be in accordance with the proper planning of Adare, which he said was one of the most beautiful heritage towns in the country.
Shortly before the vote was called, Mr Leahy warned: “It is a legal decision you are taking today and I cannot emphasise enough how serious it is.”
County manager Ned Gleeson said if the councillors wanted to go ahead and rezone against advice, the decision must be grounded on proper planning.
As well as council management, the Department of the Environment also voiced its objection to the rezoning, as it “would have significant impacts on the setting of the historic town”.
Urban design consultants Nicholas de Jong in a report to the council, said lands already zoned for housing in Adare cover more than 120 acres and could accommodate up to 1,000 houses.
“This is equivalent to a population increase of around 2,600 persons, clearly far in excess of the requirements during the lifetime of the [Local Area] plan for Adare, up to 2014, and for the longer 20-year period,” the consultants advised in their report.