Tuesday 13 October 2009

Zoning frenzy forces minister to rein in several councils

CASTLEBAR town and Mayo County Council have both been hit with restrictions for zoning too much land for housing.

They are two among a handful of local authorities that have been reined in by the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

Last year, Castlebar zoned far in excess of what was needed according to projected population growth -- a fact that is now even acknowledged by county councillors.

Environment Minister John Gormley stepped in when he judged that the Castlebar Development Plan was promoting unsustainable development by rezoning over 1,000 acres of land outside the town, with a density of four houses per acre.

This was despite the fact that there was enough land already zoned to build houses for 10,000 people -- three times the town's projected population growth over the next six years.

Former Fine Gael councillor Paddy McGuinness from Castlebar, who stepped down from the council at the local elections, now acknowledges that it was unacceptable.

"At the time of the plan, against the advice of the planners, we were just doing what politicians do -- which is to try and make everyone happy.

"John Gormley did what he did -- and he was right to do it. I'd acknowledge now that we went way overboard with Castlebar, but what he did with wider planning in Mayo was to act all high and mighty," he said.

"He wanted to create a corridor around seven to eight miles wide for which planning would not be allowed. It was really sweeping stuff. They just drew circles around towns and said you couldn't build outside it.

"That would decimate rural communities," said Mr McGuinness, who is personal friend of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.

Mr Gormley's intervention took place under powers introduced in the 2000 Planning and Development Act.

He has issued directions four times -- to Mayo, Castlebar Town Council, Monaghan County Council and Waterford County Council. Last July, Mr Gormley raised concerns about Mayo's county development plan.

He said it did not prioritise development in the main towns of Ballina and Castlebar.

Fiach Kelly
Irish Independent


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