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Adjournment Debate. - Interventions in Planning Applications.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I am sorry the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is not here to hear this matter. However, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern. I raise this issue because it is a matter of grave concern to an ever-growing number of people. While I refer specifically to the west Cavan and Leitrim areas I am conscious that this is a problem in many areas of the country and one that warrants the Minister's and the Government's urgent address.

I request that the Minister outline the steps it is proposed to take to remove or significantly reduce the current obstacles to development of domestic dwellings and tourism focused projects in west Cavan and Leitrim and specifically to address the inappropriate intervention of An Taisce in many planning cases.

I have met with several young people, and some not so young, in the past 12 months. The majority are native to these counties and have returned home after years of forced economic migration elsewhere in Ireland or overseas. Neither they, their families and communities nor I can understand why An Taisce is operating a vendetta against the people of this sprawling and thinly populated rural area. It is an area of great natural beauty and also an underdeveloped area. Over the decades it has lost a significant percentage of its population, has been economically left [974] behind and continues to offer its marginalised community a rugged and frugal lifestyle.

This need not be. The people of west Cavan and Leitrim, of Dowra and the shores of Lough Allen – the first lake on the River Shannon as it makes its way from the Shannon Pot in west Cavan – have every right to enjoy and exploit their home environment in a caring and respectful way. This is not an area designated to remain a wondrous wilderness for people from Dublin and elsewhere to come, in few numbers, on day visits and leave again. It is an area which can and should attract many visitors who would, in turn, bring economic prosperity to its long neglected and marginalised people.

The applications of which I speak were almost all approved by Cavan or Leitrim County Councils. An Taisce has been the primary objector to An Bord Pleanála, which appears to be all too ready to agree with the An Taisce line. This causes me and many people great concern. People have spent years of hard work away from home, saving and looking forward to returning and placing their hopes for their futures and their children's futures in the place of their birth. They return to be rejected by strangers in the main and faceless folk who have a picture postcard stake in the area and nothing more. These objectors often do not even reside in Ireland. They have addresses elsewhere in Europe. They object not only to stand-alone rural housing that would bring new life to communities and to churches, schools and to the limited number of commercial and retail outlets in the area, but they also object to tourist focused projects that would give new employment and real hope for a secure future for young couples and their children.

The Lough Allen marina proposals would have reaped a €30 million investment and created more than 100 jobs. What would that have meant to an area that has known only impoverishment for decades? Despite the undoubted economic benefits that have accrued from the restoration of the Ballinamore to Ballyconnel canal and the opening of the Lough Allen canal, no economic upturn has been experienced by the people of this lough's shores and its wider hinterland. The boats are entering and leaving just as fast. There is nowhere for them to dock, no attractions they can access or communities with which to interact.

This matter needs to be addressed and I appeal to the Minister to give a positive indication of the steps he proposes to take.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern Zoom on Noel Ahern I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Under planning legislation each planning authority must prepare a development plan setting out an overall strategy for the planning and development of its area. Decisions on individual planning applications are also a matter for each local planning authority in accordance with its development plan, or for An Bord Pleanála in the case of an appeal. The planning system is very open. There is public participation in the making of development plans and in the planning per[975] mission process. The planning regulations prescribe certain bodies which must be consulted in regard to certain categories of planning application. An Taisce is among these prescribed bodies. As the Deputy is aware an applicant for planning permission or a person who commented on an application at local authority level is entitled to appeal the decision of a local authority to An Bord Pleanála. I expect any person or body commenting on a planning application or making an appeal to do so only on the basis of bona fide land use planning reasons. All planning appellants are by law required to state the subject matter and full grounds of their appeal and the reasons, considerations and arguments on which these are based.

An Bord Pleanála has an absolute discretion to dismiss any appeal from whatever source where it is of the opinion that the appeal is vexatious, frivolous or without substance or foundations. I am aware that the position adopted by An Taisce in relation to one-off rural housing has attracted considerable controversy in recent times. An Taisce is a non-governmental organisation and is independent in arriving at its policy positions. Many NGOs and community groups may get under our skin occasionally but they have a purpose and their own points of view on policy positions.

The debate on one-off rural housing has become polarised in recent times. While I appear as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, as the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs I have strong views on this matter. I hope the policy outlined in the recently published national spatial strategy will help to achieve consensus on this matter.

As a member of a local authority I know it can be annoying, particularly if council members and officials make brave decisions, if appeals go to An Bord Pleanála. However, the only way local authority members can try control that is to have a tight development plan, because a lot of the cases in which An Taisce or others are appealing to An Bord Pleanála are cases where the manager, perhaps, did not go along with the recommendation from his planner. If An Taisce or An Bord Pleanála see disputes in Cavan County Council or wherever, they can exaggerate them.

Speaking from my own time on the city council, I feel that councils should look at the develop[976] ment plans more thoroughly so decisions cannot be appealed to the same extent. However, An Bord Pleanála is great when it is with us and a nuisance when it goes the opposite way. All public representatives probably feel the same about it and their views on it change from week to week depending on their position on any particular argument.

The national spatial strategy sets out a rural housing settlement framework which has four objectives: to sustain and renew established rural communities; to strengthen the established structure of villages and smaller settlements to support local economies and to accommodate additional population; to ensure that key assets in rural areas are protected to support quality of life and economic vitality; and to ensure that rural settlement policies take account of and are appropriate to the differing local circumstances in different areas.

To meet these objectives, the NSS holds that housing needs within the established rural community by persons working in rural areas or in nearby urban areas should, subject to good planning practice, be accommodated.

Rural-generated housing needs arise for people who are an intrinsic part of the rural community by way of background or the fact that they work full time or part time in rural areas. As a general principle, subject to good planning practice in matters of location, siting, design and the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and areas of high landscape value, rural-generated housing needs should be accommodated in the areas where they arise.

With regard to urban-generated housing in the open countryside, development driven by urban areas should take place, as a general principle, within the built up lands and on lands identified, through the development plan process, for integrated, serviced and sustainable development.

I will certainly convey the views of Deputy Ó Caoláin to the Minister. Councils can help if they have a tighter development plan and if they can bring forward decisions where the planner, the public representatives and the manager are all on the one side. Other groups who wish to appeal these matters, be they third parties or bodies such as An Taisce, have an easier case if there is disagreement at local authority level.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 December 2002.


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