Mr John Gormley TD, Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government, today (10 November 08) confirmed that officials from his Department have written to Donegal County Council outlining concerns about specific changes to the Donegal County Development Plan 2006-2012, adopted on 29 September 2008 by way of variation to the Plan under Section 13 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
In particular, the Minister is concerned about the inclusion of a “small builders policy” in the variation whereby the Council will facilitate local builders who are registered with the Council under this measure to build two one-off houses per annum.
Speaking yesterday, the Minister said that such a policy ran against proper planning practice.
“It is my view that this policy runs contrary to proper planning and sustainable development, given that it has the potential to be development-led and not plan-led, this goes against statutory guidance for planning authorities as set out in the Department’s Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines (2005) and Development Plan Guidelines (2007),” Minister Gormley said.
“Good planning should have at its core the objective of serving the best interests of the members of the community. The people of Donegal are at the centre of my concerns and that of the officials in my Department. I am not convinced that this small builders policy will serve the best interests of the community. Accordingly I have asked the local authority to clarify certain matters for me,” said Minister Gormley.
The Department’s letter to Donegal Council has sought additional information on how the policy will operate in order to make a fully informed assessment on its impact.
The information sought includes the number of builders proposed to be involved, the criteria for becoming registered on the list, and the safeguards to ensure the system complies with current ethics laws and guidelines.
The letter has also raised concerns about the potential of legal challenges that could arise whether in relation to individual planning applications or from those excluded from the register, bearing in mind the principles laid down in the EC Treaty regarding open access to markets and freedom of establishment.
The Department has strongly advised the Council to seek legal advice as to whether or not the policy as adopted is well-founded, proportionate and robust to potential legal challenge.
“ If the local authority are concerned with boosting economic development in Donegal, they should consider other more appropriate ways to do this, for example, through the introduction of measures to release lands, publicly and privately owned, in various towns and villages throughout the county for development, “ continued Minister Gormley.
“I hope that the members of Donegal County Council will deal with this matter in a constructive and considered manner,” concluded Minster Gormley, “and I await the Council’s response to my Department’s queries.”