Friday 7 November 2008

Councils risk being sued over 'excessive' zoning

LOCAL authorities will leave themselves open to huge compensation claims if they continue to inappropriately zone large tracts of land for development, a planning expert warned yesterday.

An Bord Pleanala has also accused lawyers of engaging in "courtroom histrionics" which delay planning hearings.

Speaking at the launch of the board's 2007 annual report, chairman John O'Connor said local authorities needed to maximise the return on expensive infrastructural investment.

"Indiscriminate and excessive zonings" many of which were "completely out of line" with national guidelines need to be curtailed, he said.

Local authorities which failed to act faced the likelihood of the planning appeals board overturning permission decisions, which could lead to compensation claims from developers.

The comments come after Environment Minister John Gormley earlier this year ordered local authorities in Monaghan, Mayo and Waterford to amend their development plans because they were not in line with national planning policies.

Councillors have criticised the move but yesterday Mr O'Connor warned that much development was not being carried out in an "orderly" manner.

"In dealing with planning appeals the board is constantly coming across zoned sites that are too far removed from developed areas, too remote from public facilities such as piped services, footpaths, and lighting," he said.

He added there was a high likelihood that "possible consequent compensation liabilities" would increase, warning councillors to expend less effort "on responding to special pleading for unsuitably located lands".

He also said development must take place where money has been invested in water treatment plants, public transport, roads and schools.

Shopping centres should be located in town centres.

Waste management facilities must be located in appropriate locations, and proposers must show how residual liquid and solid waste will be disposed of.

Too many nursing homes were proposed for rural locations outside of town centres.

Lawyers were delaying the process by engaging in "courtroom histrionics" during planning hearings.

"There is concern that some lawyers participating in hearings are engaging in courtroom histrionics which may be good for the odd headline but have no place in a planning hearing," Mr O'Connor said.

"While not denying that lawyers can make a valuable input to hearings, this conduct tends to prolong hearings unduly, distract from the real purpose of the hearing and can also hinder the inspector in getting to the root of the planning and environmental issues involved and reporting the facts to the board." The Bar Council and Law Society said it would not be appropriate to comment.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

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