Wednesday 15 April 2009

Protesters furious over scenic area proposals

PLANS TO restrict development on the west Cork peninsulas led to the adjournment of a meeting of Cork County Council yesterday after protesters occupied councillors’ seats.

About 200 local residents protested at the County Hall, where the meeting was to be held, to highlight concerns over the proposed designation of coastal regions of west Cork as “scenic landscape”.

The residents say this would eliminate their chances of obtaining planning permission for rural dwellings.

However, Cork County Council says this is incorrect and that the planned new restrictions are less stringent than those already in place.

The protest was led by a group called the “special scenic committee”, which is seeking a written commitment from the county council that no lands will be designated “scenic landscape” until a consultation process with locals has taken place.

The areas affected include all three west Cork peninsulas, Sheep’s Head, Mizen and Beara and all areas west of a line linking Bantry to Skibbereen.

West Cork residents who undertook journeys of up to 2½ hours gathered outside the hall from 10am yesterday, before moving inside to observe a council meeting scheduled to take place.

Protesters filled the council chamber and occupied councillors’ seats prompting the council to adjourn the meeting until April 28th.

In its place, an unofficial discussion forum was held, during which the secretary of the special scenic committee, Finbarr Harrington, posed a number of questions to councillors to ascertain the exact meaning of the language used by planners, including “scenic route”, “sustainable development” and “suitable site”.

“We asked to meet the planners, that’s why we are here. People are frustrated and sick and tired of waiting. We are asking these questions now but ye can’t answer them,” Mr Harrington said.

“We want an immediate commitment from Cork County Council that no land in west Cork will be designated ‘scenic landscape’ without a full and proper discussion with stakeholders.

“And we are seeking an immediate review of planning policies in west Cork. We just want a fair deal for our communities and for our children,” he said.

The committee says that in one case a couple with two children had spent upwards of €20,000 in repeated efforts to obtain planning permission on a two-acre site in Glengarriff over the past six years. In another case, it says, planners refused permission for a dwelling near Schull “by reason of its elevated location when viewed from the sea”.

One couple in their 20s had secured outline planning permission for a house between Schull and Ballydehob, but that decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála by An Taisce. “They say that because there are already houses in the area that are vacant, it would make more sense to buy than build. But this just shows how unfair the system is,” said the 25-year-old woman involved in the application, who did not wish to be named. “There are so many holiday homes, some of them big extravagant structures, but we can’t get planning permission, when we are both from the area and this will be our first home together. The average price for a site is €100,000, it costs a couple of thousand every time you apply for planning, and in the meantime we have to rent,” she said.

Fianna Fáil Cork South-West TD Christy O’Sullivan said no one wanted to see areas of natural beauty destroyed, but planners needed to recognise that without planning permission young people will leave the area.

Goleen-based Fine Gael councillor Dermot Sheehan said he was happy with the outcome of yesterday’s protest. “The show of solidarity and strength here verifies the seriousness of the situation,” he said.

Cork county manager Martin Riordan said the adjournment was “unnecessary and unfortunate”.

“The county development plan was adopted in December and came into effect in February, with the direction that the special scenic landscape proposal be taken out of the plan,” he said.

Mr Riordan said the scenic landscape proposal would have relaxed existing planning restrictions.

“We were trying to change the focus, so instead of having pockets of scenic landscapes with very tight restrictions, you would have a wider area covered under less stringent restrictions where those seeking planning permission would have to explain how the development can be integrated into the landscape, rather than having to prove residency of more than seven years and the need for housing, which is the current requirement,” he said.

Irish Times

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