Monaghan county manager warns over rezonings

 

Monaghan county manager Declan Nelson has warned councillors that their draft development plan could be "called in" by the Department of the Environment as a result of rezoning decisions made against planning advice.

Some of the draft rezonings adopted by substantial majorities at a council meeting last Wednesday were strongly opposed by the planners on the basis that they could result in flooding, undermine the town centre of Clones or prejudice reopening the Ulster Canal.

The meeting took place on the same day that Minister of State for Finance Tom Parlon inaugurated an Office of Public Works flood mapping website (www.floodmaps.ie) and warned that inappropriate development in flood-plain areas had the potential to cause "severe hardship".

Two days after last week's rezonings, a parcel of land outside Clones, which the councillors had voted to rezone for "commercial/bulk retail" use, including a garden centre against planners' advice, was put up for sale.

Up to 80 per cent of the 367 written submissions on the draft county development plan came from landowners seeking to have land rezoned. In many cases, the councillors obliged, often voting 18 to one in favour.

"The planners' recommendations on the 18 most controversial rezoning proposals [ for the Clones and Ballybay areas] fell like a bag of spuds, councillor Vincent P Martin, the sole Independent member of the county council who voted against most of them, said yesterday.

He told The Irish Times that councillors had been lobbied intensively to vote in favour of several rezonings. By agreeing to do so, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin members had "rubbished" two years of work by the planners, he said.

Hugh McElvaney, leader of the Fine Gael group which voted for most of the rezonings, said yesterday he believed that the council officials had been slow to encourage development in the past.

"This is an opportunity to do that and the people of Co Monaghan will either be advantaged or disadvantaged by the adoption of the plan."

Attempts to contact the mayor of Co Monaghan, councillor Pádraig McNally (FF), were unsuccessful.

The draft county plan will be considered at a resumed meeting of the council in Carrickmacross tomorrow.

Mr Jackson said "too many localised commitments are being taken on board" contrary to the public interest in proper planning.

He cited the case of the fire-damaged Riverdale Hotel in Ballybay, where the owners had sought to have land in the floodplain of the Dromore river rezoned for housing that would be "built on stilts" to protect it from flooding in the future.

Senior planner Adrian Hughes said this was a clear indication that the land was unsuitable for housing. He also pointed out that provision had already been made in the draft plan for more than 1,500 houses in Ballybay, in areas not prone to flooding.

Although he strongly recommended that the town's development boundary should not be extended to include the floodplain land, citing "an unacceptable risk of flooding downstream", the council decided by 17 votes to nil, with two abstentions, to rezone it.