A decision by Wicklow County Council to refuse planning permission for 98 new homes in Greystones, on the basis that population targets for 2028 have already been exceeded, could have implications for national planning and housing policy.
As reported in The Irish Times, the council in its refusal for the development cited population targets “which indicate the housing targets for the Greystones/Delgany settlement in the plan period have already been reached”.
Council planners also cited the location of the proposed housing “on peripheral greenfield lands outside of the exiting built up footprint of the existing settlement”, which it said was contrary to the provisions of the Eastern and Midland Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy 2019-2031.
However, developers point out the proposed housing by Cairn Homes is on land zoned for development, in proximity to new local schools and a shopping centre, with good roads and is also close to an enhanced mains drainage scheme installed about two years ago.
Local councillor Derek Mitchell said the problem goes back to the method used to calculate the number of new homes needed to house the proposed population of Greystones/Delgany. He said there was an assumption that the number of people in each new home was 2.19, later amended to 2.5 people per house and this dictated the amount of houses needed, and the amount of land to be rezoned. But census figures showed a higher number of people per household at 2.79 people, he said, and so the population targets were reached before the anticipated number of new homes. He estimated the overall discrepancy at about 10 per cent.
Mr Mitchell said the County Development Plan foresaw a 49 per cent increase in populations in Bray and Wicklow/ Rathnew and a 25 to 30 per cent increase in population of Greystones/Delgany, Arklow and Blessington. But he said the ultimate outcome appeared to be a ban on new planning permissions on zoned land in the midst of a housing crisis.
Builders said the council decision is being interpreted as an outright ban on new planning permissions for housing in the area until at least 2028 when a new plan with new targets is due. Tom Parlon of the Construction Industry Federation was particularly caustic, describing it as “more of the bulls**t decisions which are holding up housing”. He said houses needed to be built and it was national policy to build them where there was zoned, serviced land “but you still have officials saying no”.
Head of Research at Savills, John Ring, said this was likely to become a significant national problem in time. He said the National Planning Framework, published in 2018, envisaged 50 per cent of all growth to 2040 to be located in the 12 counties that make up the Midlands and East Region with the remaining 50 per cent in the rest of the county.
Mr Ring said this was politically expedient as a device to balance regional development, but was flawed. “In the 10 years leading up to the plan 62 per cent of the growth was in the Midlands and Eastern Region, which includes Dublin and Wicklow, with 38 per cent elsewhere. A difficulty with this is that people are choosing to live in or near Dublin as that is where the jobs are,” he said.
Mr Ring said places like Greystones/Delgany were where people wanted to live, where the demand is, and he foresaw similar difficulties across the State as the regional development strategy clashed with demand.
A spokesman for the Office of the Planning Regulator said the office would not comment on a local authority decision. However the spokesman said “taking into account relevant national planning guidance, in a practical sense, figures [contained in development plans] are generally regarded as broad targets rather than fixed ceilings taking into account the extent of other uncommenced planning permissions and the likely rate of build out”.
The spokesman said it was estimated that Greystones/Delgany would exceed the targets before the end of the plan’s period due to legacy housing developments under construction. He added that “local circumstances will be relevant in grounding planning decisions on any particular case”.
Wicklow County Council said the council’s rationale was contained in its decision, which is available online.