Council told to 'de-zone' land
Frank McDonald, Environment Editor
The Department of the Environment has called on Meath County Council to "de-zone" land already designated for development in areas that were never intended to cater for growth in the county's population.
In a submission on the draft county development plan, the department says it is "essential" that the council should "demonstrate clearly" its commitment to the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) and Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs).
Unless it took "very firm measures . . . there is a risk that development-led growth at unsuitable and unserviced locations may effectively overwhelm the reasonable aspirations . . . to manage the growth of the county sustainably towards a population of around 180,000".
Referring to figures in the draft plan, it says these "would appear to indicate that, if all existing zoned land was developed, it could provide for an ultimate county population of some 300,000, well above the target population of 180,000 by 2013".
The department says it is "particularly concerned that the development plan for Meath should more explicitly prioritise and channel future development activity and growth potential within the county to a smaller number of strategic locations".
It notes the "very high level of zoned land already available in the county" as well as recent trends in development activity in areas not designated as growth centres and the need to take transport infrastructure and water services into account.
"In order to deliver balanced self-sustaining and public transport-served development in the future, it is essential that the plan ensures that agreed levels of future population growth for the county be channelled first and foremost to locations such as Navan".
Future growth should also be targeted on the environs of Drogheda and other strategic locations in "the metropolitan part of the Greater Dublin Area, such as the Clonsilla-Pace rail corridor" - the first phase of the proposed restoration of the Dublin-Navan railway line.
The department says it is "not satisfied" that the draft county plan had put in place the mechanisms to achieve this objective. "Such mechanisms are essential in demonstrating that the plan is broadly consistent with the overall aims and objectives of the NSS and RPGs.
"Accordingly, it is considered essential ... that the planning authority demonstrate clearly what policy mechanisms, (such as de-zoning, phasing etc), it will use to deliver plan-led development of the county over the period of the plan".
If the council ignores the department's key recommendations, Minister for the Environment Dick Roche could use his powers under the 2000 Planning Act to direct it to change the draft plan - as he has already done in the cases of Co Laois and Co Monaghan.