Fingal's draft plan allows for greater use of green belts


Few things in Co Dublin have been fought for so strenuously as the protection of green belt areas. Every time these "visual breaks" between swathes of the proverbial concrete jungle came under attack, residents' associations could be counted on to mobilise in defence of their integrity.

However, according to Fingal County Council, the traditional objective of a green belt to protect the open character of lands between built-up areas has resulted in such lands being "generally unavailable to the urban-based population and unsustainable for agriculture".

And while the draft county plan recognises the need to maintain visual breaks, it wants to provide opportunities for "access to the open countryside for the urban population, for outdoor sport and recreation and for retaining attractive landscapes".

Extensive new green belt areas are provided for in the draft plan, including a continuous zone stretching from the coast at Baldoyle to the county boundary with Kildare. Other green belts are provided in the vicinity of Swords, Donabate, Portrane, Rush, Skerries and Balbriggan.

Under the new "H" zoning category, "to provide for green belts and to provide for urban and rural amenities", these areas "will now play a major strategic role in the development of the county", according to the draft plan which was circulated to councillors last week.

The council says it will actively promote the development of "integrated tourist recreational complexes" on minimum sites of 200 acres in green belt areas, including hotels, conference centres, golf courses, equestrian centres and tennis academies. Such complexes may also include low-density housing, at the rate of one house per five acres, or high-density courtyard-type residential units.

This is Fingal County Council's first draft development plan since it came into existence on January 1st, 1994. As it notes, the county covers an area of 173 square miles and had a population of 167,000 in 1996, making it the fourth most populous county in the State.

The plan is said to be based on "a coherent county development strategy". However, it notes that strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, now being prepared by consultants, will only apply to subsequent development plan reviews, not this one.

It lays heavy stress on Fingal's ability to capitalise on the Dublin-Belfast "economic corridor", which it sees as having the potential to provide "one of the most significant economic development entities in the country" and is expected to grow rapidly over the next decade.

The plan aims to "focus future development along the corridor in such a way as to enhance Fingal's existing industrial clusters". The planned M1 motorway interchange at Courtlough, near Skerries, is earmarked for development, including a possible science and technology park.

Dublin Airport is also seen as a crucial engine of growth in north Co Dublin. "Fingal, as the local authority in the area, has a unique role in facilitating the development potential of the airport and environs and acting as the guardian of this national resource," the draft says.

Apart from protecting the future operational, safety and technical requirements of the airport by continuing to impose limitations on the development of some adjoining lands, other issues to be considered include the provision of a second east-west runway. The plan also aims to ensure more efficient use of car-parking land at the airport, as well as developing the road network in the area.

Dublin Airport now forms the nucleus of a vast area zoned to provide for an "appropriate and compatible mixture of uses", not all of it airport-related, "in accordance with approved action plans and subject to the provision of the necessary social and physical infrastructure."

However, the draft emphasises that substantial areas would be required for amenity and recreation purposes. "Hence, intensive development will only be permitted at limited and specific locations", it says, adding that a major study would be required first.