This is bonkers. Surely one of the most barmy council decisions of recent years?
Villages target of rezoning fever
Analysis: Action will have to be taken to bring Laois county councillors into line with their own regional planning guidelines, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor
Just as the Minister for the Environment, Mr Roche, was extolling the value of regional planning guidelines yesterday in Ennis, Co Clare, Laois county councillors were pushing through a raft of rezoning proposals which flew in the face of rational planning.
Up for grabs was nearly every village in the county - from Attanagh to Vicarstown - with hundreds of acres of land earmarked for residential development. And all of proposed amendments to the draft county plan were hatched at closed-door committee meetings in recent weeks.
This time it wasn't the normally pro-development Fianna FÃ¡il councillors who took the initiative, but their Fine Gael colleagues, supported by Progressive Democrat and Sinn FÃ©in councillors. Fianna FÃ¡il actually opposed what it called "blanket rezonings".
The targeted villages read like a roll-call - Arles, Attanagh, Ballacolla, Ballinakill, Ballybrittas, Ballyfin, Ballylynan, Ballyroan, Borris-in-Ossory, Camross, Castletown, Clonaslee, Clough, Durrow, Emo, Errill, Killenard, Rosenallis, Shanahoe, Stradbally and Timahoe.
Cllr Michael Moloney (FF) said afterwards he feared the rezonings would conjure up a "Rochfortbridge scenario" - a reference to the Co Westmeath village that's now engulfed by suburban housing, built largely for people commuting to Dublin.
"Each village in Co Laois should have been taken on a one-by-one basis and plans drawn up in consultation with the local communities," he said. "It's just nonsense for the Fine Gael group and others to argue that developers will provide sewerage and other facilities".
There is no provision in the Midlands Regional Planning Guidelines, adopted last April, for large-scale residential development around the villages of Co Laois. Its focus is on building up the urban structure of the region in accordance with a "hierarchy" of towns.
The guidelines give precedence to the "triangular gateway" of Althlone-Mullingar-Tullamore, identified in the Government's National Spatial Strategy, while not forgetting Longford and Portlaoise. Next in line are the region's smaller towns; villages are way down the list.
The "key objective" of the guidelines is to develop a "cohesive settlement strategy" that would "prioritise the linked gateway and principal towns as the primary foci for development", consolidate the smaller towns and "support" the existing network of villages.
If development is to start from the bottom of this hierarchy, a situation never envisaged by the guidelines, it is obvious the places that really need to be built up will lose out and the settlement pattern will become even more haphazard. An Taisce, among others, has argued in favour of building up villages as a viable alternative to indiscriminate one-off housing in the countryside. But this would mean preparing detailed local plans, rather than simply zoning land in the way it has been done in Laois.
The director of the Heritage Council, Mr Michael Starrett, said villages in the Irish landscape were very special and needed careful consideration.
Blanket zonings "cut across all of the good practice of drawing up village design statements", as had been done in Co Sligo.
In his speech yesterday, the Minister said the preparation of regional planning guidelines "demanded an ability to take a broader and longer-term view, something that we have not always been so good at in the past". Or, he might have added, in the present either.
Mr Roche has power under the 2000 Planning Act to revoke the village rezonings in Laois if they are confirmed by the county council after the public has had its say on its draft county plan. If the guidelines are to mean anything, he will have to do so.
Â© The Irish Times
29 Laois towns set for expansion
Twenty-nine villages and towns in Co Laois will expand after councillors voted to accept part of a controversial county development plan. New development boundaries will be set up around the villages and small towns in the county, allowing for the construction of thousands of new houses.
The issue was thrashed out at a six-hour meeting of the council yesterday, at which councillors voted by 12 votes to nine in favour of this part of the development plan.
Towns like Portlaoise, Portarlington and Mountmellick are not included in the plan - instead the growth will take place in smaller towns and villages.
The overall plan will be voted on this Monday, and it will then be published to allow the public air their views. Fianna FÃ¡il councillors opposed the proposals, which were supported by Fine Gael, an independent, a Progressive Democrat and a Sinn FÃ©in.
Because the meeting went on so long, the debate on the overall plan was adjourned until Monday's meeting.
There were claims from Fianna FÃ¡il councillors that the plan could destroy villages in the county.
They said villages would not be able to cope with the explosion in population, and cited examples in Kildare where small towns and villages have experienced rapid population surges.
They also argued that the infrastructure to deal with increased traffic would be a problem.
Fine Gael said the housing development was mooted to allow for balanced development to take place within the county and that developers would be obliged to allot 17.5 per cent of housing to social housing once the land was rezoned.
Cllr John Bonham, Fine Gael, said the proposals were "far-reaching" and would create a better future for the county.
"This is a holistic approach to planning. People want to live and be able to afford housing in local areas, go to local schools, support local businesses, this gives them that opportunity."
Cllr Gerry Lodge, Fianna FÃ¡il, was adamant the blanket zoning of land in villages would remove the council's power to control planning, as developers would be able to appeal decisions to An Bord PleanÃ¡la. If the land remained unzoned, the council would have more control of development, he said.
There were claims that some landowners and developers would become millionaires because of the decision.
Â© The Irish Times