Kerry councillors reject planners’ advice on Valentia rezoning

Council planners warn that up to 300 houses could be built on scenic lands on island

‘Anywhere you stand on Valentia Island is scenic,’ Cllr Healy-Rae said. Photograph:  Alan Landers

‘Anywhere you stand on Valentia Island is scenic,’ Cllr Healy-Rae said. Photograph: Alan Landers

 

Councillors in Kerry led by Johnny Healy-Rae have unanimously backed veteran footballer Mick O’Connell and rejected strong advice from planners on zoning scenic lands on Valentia Island.

Kerry County Council planners had warned that retention of the low-density residential zoning on 9.4 hectare parcel of scenic lands on the island off the Iveragh Peninsula would pave the way for up to 300 homes and would be unsustainable.

As part of a new plan for the area, they had proposed the land be zoned for agricultural use.

In a submission to Kerry County Council, Mr O’Connell and his neighbour Seanie Murphy, strongly objected to the attempt by the council’s planners to zone the land for agriculture. They said they and their families had owned and worked the land for generations and that the existing low density designation would preserve the coastal area.

“As islanders and seamen we are of the soil there and have a very special affinity with them,” they said.

“These lands were first zoned for low-density housing at the height of the Celtic Tiger when landowners all over Ireland and indeed Kerry sought high-density residential zoning with the intent of concentrating as many houses into unsuitably small areas, resulting in a ‘scarring’ effect on the views and ribbon development along roads,” their submission said.

But, they said their motives were the very opposite and were to “safeguard” a visually sensitive area from such inappropriate development. Both men attended a meeting of local councillors in Killorglin last week which was considering the new six-year local area plan for west Iveragh, which includes Valentia.

Coastal landscape

Planners said the land at Farranreagh, at the northwestern extremity of Knightstown, was a highly scenic “coastal landscape” between the road and where “a high level of rural one-off dwellings” already existed.

The draft plan said the pattern of housing in west Iveragh had been undermining towns and villages and more compact settlements should be developed.

The village of Knightstown, with a permanent population of 234, was designed by Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo in the 1830s and was built in the 1840s. The plan said it had managed to retain its distinctive character.

Senior planner Damien Ginty told councillors at the meeting last week that dwelling houses for sons and daughters of the landowners or the favourite niece or nephew could be “considered” for planning under agricultural zoning.

“I would advise the members if these lands are zoned as residential they will cater for 300 units and this would be a significant change,” Mr Ginty said.

The village of Knightstown’s permanent population was just 234, he added.

The draft local area plan, approved by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, had been opened for public consultation and on public display for three months from January.

Cllr Healy-Rae rejected the planners’ advice and proposed the low-density zoning. The motion was seconded by Cllr John Francis Flynn (FF) and all seven councillors including Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil backed the proposal.

“I appreciate it has the potential to have 300 houses, but to me that’s nonsense. All we are looking for is to retain and keep the status quo. At most it will be one house to an acre,” Cllr Healy-Rae said.

He rejected the council’s planners’ concerns that the lands were in a highly scenic area “between the road and the sea”.

“Anywhere you stand on Valentia Island is scenic,” Cllr Healy-Rae said.

The overall plan was also passed by councillors. Amendments, including the Farranreagh zoning, will go on public display again for a four week period.