Re: Re: Government-by-numbers

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De Facto – Mayo News, Wednesday April 20, 2005
Planning a withdrawal

Why did Westport Town Council allow a respected developer to submit a major planning application that, according to Westport Civic Trust, contravenes the Westport Town Development Plan 2003, Departmental Residential Density-Guidelines and Part 5, Planning and Development Act 2000? Both the council and the developer and their respective advisors held a series of pre-planning meetings, yet the application has now been withdrawn. The application refers to a major development at Cloonmonad (alongside the Railway Line Walk) of over 100 houses.
Westport Civic Trust (WCT) has done the people of the town a great favour with their submission, prepared by Gerrard+Associates. (Declaration of interest – I am a founder member of WCT and only examined the submission after it was submitted to the council.) The objection was brave as people call for more houses in Westport. It raised serious issues about the pre-planning process. Six other submissions were made.

Planning history

The planning application was received and validated by Westport Town Council on March 4th. It was not available to the public until March 11th – reducing the time-span for submissions by 20%. Requests by WCT for the file were denied during that first week. A WCT member walked the site with a senior council official, finding only one of the three site notices. At one stage the official ‘erected’ one of the (fallen) notices.

In a letter dated April 7th the developer notified the council that the application was being withdrawn. The council received the letter on the same day. On the same day letters were sent to the seven parties who had made submissions advising them that the application had been withdrawn.

People who asked to see the file last week in the council offices were informed that the application had been withdrawn. The implication was that this did not give people the right to view the file. Some of us insisted, regardless. Pre-planning details were presented on one A4 page (with €1 charge for a copy!) A pre-planning file with details of several meetings was not made available.

The Civic Trust submission highlighted four main points:

1. Westport Development Plan

The submission showed that there was only temporary access to the site across the Railway Line Walk, which is a public amenity.

“The proposal does not minimise the potential growth in transport demand, it does not promote and facilitate cycling, walking and public transport. It does not provide viable alternatives to car based transport.”

Another objector stated that the density of the proposal was double what was proposed in the development plan (which allows for increased density in some cases). Concerns were also expressed under sustainability, waste disposal and design headings. A public park was included “in accordance with Westport Town Council’s masterplan for Cloonmonad, prepared by Mitchell+Associates.” This ‘masterplan’ has no legal standing, is not cited in the Development Plan, has not been put on public display and was not available for viewing to Gerrard+Associates. The council plans to build a new access road to the estate but nothing has been finalised. Why allow a developer to proceed with plans when the road details are not finalised.

2. Housing strategy 2001-2006

There is a county policy to develop 20% of residential zoned land for social and affordable housing under Part V of the Planning and Development Act, 2000 and to encourage integration of social and affordable housing within developments. The Act allows planning authorities to issue certificates exempting developments from the social housing requirements. No clearance certificate has been applied for.

There is no reference in the planning application as to how the housing strategy policy is to be complied with. It is a requirement of the Act to do so, and failure to comply renders the application invalid.

3. Environmental impacts

Neither a Heritage Plan nor a Biodiversity Plan (as required under the National Biodiversity Plan) is in place in Westport. No proper assessment of the wetlands of Cloonmonad, an urban greenway, which will be impacted by the proposed access to the development, has been made. Senior road engineer Paddy Mahon in his memo to the Manager dated 6th September 2001 stated: “With regard to the flora and fauna of the wetlands in the vicinity of the Railway Walk an Environmental Impact Assessment can be carried out. This assessment would identify the impact the proposed road and bridge would have on the environment generally, and would make recommendations on how to minimise any impact.” No EIS was carried out. Once this greenway is destroyed it cannot be reinstated.

4. New road

Town councillors passed plans (Part 10, newspaper notice, 4th July 2001) for a new 1 km road and a bridge over the Railway Walk to the development site. Upwards of 150 people made submissions on this proposal. Their concerns were neither considered nor acknowledged by Westport Town Council and became the subject of a complaint to the Ombudsman, who ruled against the council. Has this decision been brought to the attention of councillors in a public meeting yet?

The council’s consultants Mitchell+Associates commented on the Railway Walk in 2002: “The main visual impact on the walkway however, will be the insertion of an access road to the north of the alignment, which will service the still underdeveloped lands at Cloonmonad. The visual impact of the proposed road on the amenity of the walkway will be significant.”

The WCT submission also included details from a traffic study showing no local public transport services to the Cloonmonad/Quay area. “All this points to a need for a Greenway to include a cycle path and pedestrian walk along the Railway Walk as recognised by the Westport Town Development Plan 2003 … However this objective is in jeopardy if the Part 8 Road project is allowed to proceed as a service road for the subject site.”

Pre-planning is a disservice to any developer if the subsequent validated planning application contravenes the law. WCT highlighted serious flaws in pre-planning. The real victims are the people waiting for houses.

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