Revised Fingal town plan is developer led


THERE'S a new housing estate north of Swords which shares a name with a Californian vineyard. Glen Ellen is a fairly standard development of 100 plus suburban houses, mostly semi detached. What makes it unusual is that it stands on land zoned "agriculture" in the Fingal County Development Plan.

This curious anomaly, the result of a "material contravention" of the plan dating from 1991, was overlooked by the county planners and the elected councillors in their latest review, under which more than 200 acres of agricultural land around Swords have been rezoned for residential development.

A further 128 acres of farmland have been rezoned for industry and over 21 acres for commercial development. In all, the decisions made by Fingal councillors - mostly against the advice of their own officials - would increase the population of Swords far beyond the capacity of its overloaded sewerage system.

The biggest single rezoning - of almost 150 acres in the Rathbeale Road area - breaches the town's development boundary, a designated "stop line".

Though part of the Rathbeale Road area was already spoken for by a previous permission for housing - under the same "material contravention" that produced the Glen Ellen estate - the planners were opposed to a vast expansion of housing here, which could see up to 1,000 new units.

Most councillors ignored nearly everything the planners said, casting aside their research and survey work since the last county plan was adopted in 1993. They were even prepared to rezone 13 acres of land on the edge of Swords for "town centre" activities, opening up the prospect of its development as a major shopping mall.

As a fallback, the planners recommended that this site in the middle of the Rathbeale Road area could be developed to provide neighbourhood shopping But the council's rezoning majority was determined to facilitate a much more intensive scheme.

This decision - though it excludes major retail outlets for the moment - represents a serious contradiction of the council's declared policy to consolidate the centre of Swords, where its own headquarters are to be built in the town park. But then the plan, as amended by the councillors, is riddled with contradictions.

By far the biggest follows its statement that the combined effect of land rezonings must be limited to a population equivalent of 5,200 - the figure which could be catered for by an upgraded sewage treatment plant - whereas the councillors' decisions incorporated in the same plan would more than double this number.

The revised plan for Fingal's county town, on public display, is clearly developer led. Earlier this year, when the first draft was exhibited, the council received a sizeable number of submissions on behalf of landowners and developers seeking to have their particular parcels of agricultural land rezoned for development.

The Construction Industry Federation argued that restricting the development of Swords to the capacity of its sewage treatment plant - or even to the upgraded facility planned by the county council's engineers - "will only frustrate the system and force growth patterns into a haphazard and unplanned formation".

The map of proposed rezonings suggests that the councillors have plumped for "haphazard" planning on a larger scale. The rezoned areas follow often erratic patterns of land ownership.

Take Crowscastle, for example This 72 acre parcel in which Mr David Daly, formerly of Manor Park Homes, has an interest was rezoned for industrial development, despite being a very jagged piece of property, with only two small road frontages, while most of the land around it remains zoned for farming.

Like other landowners whose land in Swords was rezoned in the latest round, the benefit to Mr Daly is substantial. As farmland his 72 acres would be worth £360,000, at £5,000 per acre. Rezoned for an industrial estate, its value could exceed £7 million, at £100,000 per acre.

Another major beneficiary would be Bovale Developments, a major house building firm controlled by the Mayo born Bailey brothers, Michael and Tom. Most Labour councillors and one Green joined the informal alliance of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats in rezoning 91 acres at Fosterstown North, would northern portion of this be developed for housing at 10 houses per acre, yielding up to 690 new houses as soon as services can be provided. To the south, 28 acres have been rezoned for industry, while two sites totalling four acres could be developed for commercial use, including a hotel.

As in the cases of Crowscastle and Rathbeale Road, the Fosterstown North rezoning scheme was sponsored by Fingal County Council's cathaoirleach, Ms Anne Devitt (FG), in partnership with another Swords councillor, Mr Cyril Gallagher (FF). They have been the most active councillors in proposing land rezoning motions.

Mr Gallagher - along with his party colleague, Mr Michael Kennedy, who represents Malahide - also sponsored the rezoning of 35 acres of land at Barryspark for residential development, with a further 1.7 acres for industry This parcel, another jagged site, is also nearly surrounded by agricultural land.

However, the Barryspark rezoning was supported by the Melrose/Kinsealy Residents' Association, which represents residents of a large, relatively isolated housing estate. This was built on foot of a planning permission granted on appeal in 1977 by the then minister for local government, Mr James Tully - against all planning advice at the time.

Most of the estate is outside the Swords development boundary and encroaches on the green belt area which is supposed to separate Swords from Malahide and it is bisected by a reservation for the Northern Motorway. Now its existence is used as an excuse to promote more development there.

Even the Northern Motorway, with its controversially high level bridge over the Broadmeadow Estuary, would not have been necessary if so much land in Swords had not been rezoned in the 1970s. The effect of these decisions resulted in so many houses built east of the Swords Bypass that it could never become a motorway.

None of the Fingal councillors' rezoning decisions in the current review directly attacks the designated green belt. A motion to rezone part of the Swords/Malahide green belt was tabled by Mr Sean Lyons (Ind), an active land rezoner who represents the Castleknock area but it was later withdrawn.

The pro rezoning councillors say they must cater for the demand for housing and industrial development in Swords to reinforce its position as Fingal's county town and given its strategic location close to Dublin Airport. They also say that no planning approvals will be granted until its sewerage plant has been upgraded.

The changes made by Fingal county councillors to the development plan for Swords are on public exhibition at the council's headquarters in O'Connell Street and at the Swords public library, Rathbeale Road. Any objections or representations must be submitted by next Monday, December 16th.