Local authority to destroy 80 hours of video on development plan, Senator claims

Seanad passes controversial Affordable Housing Bill which moves to Dáil next week

Houses in a row in Trim, Co Meath. A Senator claimed Meath County Council officials failed to draw up minutes in county development plan. Photograph: iStock

Houses in a row in Trim, Co Meath. A Senator claimed Meath County Council officials failed to draw up minutes in county development plan. Photograph: iStock

 

An Independent Senator has accused her local authority of planning to destroy 80 hours of video footage of online meetings to discuss the county development plan.

Senator Sharon Keogan also claimed Meath County Council officials failed to draw up minutes but at the end of the entire process supplied councillors with a document “purporting to be a summary of all meetings”.

Ms Keogan told the Seanad concerns raised by numerous councillors that the document was not an accurate reflection of the meetings were “dismissed out of hand” and public representatives were being asked to approve potentially inaccurate or incomplete minutes of meetings held weeks or months previously.

Ms Keogan was speaking during debate on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, emergency legislation to allow local authorities an extra year if they need it to prepare development plans because of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Bill introduced by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien extends planning permissions for up to two years where construction had started and “substantial works” had already been completed.

Meath County Council, like many local authorities is in the process of completing its county development plan but Ms Keoghan accused its executive of “wilful obstinance” in its approach to the numerous online meetings it held on the plan.

The former councillor said there were 80 hours of audio and video of the online meetings which were open to the public.

Ms Keogan said the council plans to destroy the material and “bizarrely, none of this has been made available to local councillors, with members of the executive refusing to grant access unless under supervision by them”.

She claimed no minutes were drawn up after each planning meeting to be agreed at the following meeting “as is the standard practice”. Instead a single document purporting to be a summary of all meetings was presented to councillors at the end of the process.

Concerns were dismissed that the document did not accurately reflect discussion at the meetings. She said councillors were being asked to approve possibly inaccurate or incomplete meetings which they might not have attended personally “while being denied at the same time copies of raw video and audio footage, which is in the hands of the executive”.

Asked to comment on the claims, a spokeswoman said that the council’s position is that: “Senator Keogan’s comments are completely inaccurate”.

Affordable Housing Bill

The Seanad also passed the Affordable Housing Bill which aims to make housing more affordable to rent or buy for lower or medium income households.

The most controversial element of the legislation is the shared equity scheme in which the State takes a stake of up to 20 per cent to bridge the affordability gap between an individual’s mortgage limits, and the price of the unit.

An amendment introduced by Independent Senator Victor Boyhan to conduct and publish an annual review of progress made in the previous year on the affordable housing plan was rejected by 26 to 10.

Mr Boyhan said it was based on an amendment introduced and subsequently withdrawn by Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick who also called for an annual debate on the issue.

Mr Boyhan said that in committee there was unanimous support from the Government side for such a review.

The Minister plans, however, to introduce an amendment when the legislation goes before the Dáil after publication of his Housing for All plan which will set out targets for delivery on housing.

The legislation moves to the Dáil next week.