Row escalates over Wicklow growth plan

 

Wicklow County Council's plans for growth centres around most north Wicklow towns have provoked much protest and calls for a third-party investigation into planning in the county.

The row centres on the council's decision to designate Ashford, Kilcoole, Newtownmountkennedy (known as Newtown) and Rathnew for major population growth, in contravention of the strategic planning guidelines to which the county has signed up.

The council has already zoned land around Greystones and the outskirts of Bray and is finalising plans to double the population of Enniskerry. Locals claim that the result will be a massive suburban sprawl encompassing all of north-east Wicklow as far south as Wicklow town. The value of the land in the greenbelt hinterland at Ashford, Newtown and Kilcoole is estimated at between £200 million and £300 million by local planning groups. The total value of the council's development plans could be many times that figure.

The strategic planning guidelines published last April by the Department of the Environment recommend development in what it called the greater Dublin metropolitan area, which comes into the county only as far as Greystones and Enniskerry. The guidelines also recommend development of Wicklow and Arklow as growth centres in their own right, based on local employment prospects.

However, while Wicklow County Council has officially signed up to this strategy, in advance of it becoming law next January, the council has announced that it intends to create major growth centres in the reserved "green-belt hinterland" areas as well.

This is in contravention of the advice given to it by its consultant, Kiaran O'Malley, that the guidelines would support only local growth levels in the greenbelt areas. A number of protest groups have formed in each of the areas concerned. There is also opposition among members of the council, while the Minister for the Environment, Mr Dempsey, has, on two occasions since the planning guidelines were published, asked local authorities in the greater Dublin area to amend their development plans to take account of the national strategy.

Those opposed to the level of development claim it resembles that which took place in Dublin County Council in the mid1980s. New communities which would outnumber the populations of existing villages two and even threefold are planned for Ashford, Newtown, Kilcoole, Enniskerry, Blessington and Rathnew.

Communities in these areas are worried that what happened in Dublin may happen also in Wicklow - sprawling suburbs developed with no detailed plans for schools, health centres, public transport, playing fields and, in some cases, shopping centres.

Ms Judy Osborne, of the Wicklow Planning Alliance, points out that there is only one second-level school between Wicklow town and Bray, covering most of the areas planned for development. The existing community has waged a 16-year campaign for a second-level school and, although it was a condition of local Independent TD Ms Mildred Fox's support for the Government, the school has yet to be built.

Such is the lack of social services that when the plans to treble the size of Newtown became known, the Newtown Area Development Action Group protested loudly. The acting assistant county manager, Mr Bryan Doyle, said that the council was responding to the housing crisis in Dublin, emphasising that "more houses have to be built". He said schools in the area "should be able to expand" and added that the area had excellent access to the N11 and it had or would have water and sewerage facilities.

However, such development is also against the thinking of the Dublin Transportation Office, which argues that it is essential that new developments be undertaken along existing public transport lines.

Responses from councillors have differed. Deirdre de Burca (Green Party) and Tommy Cullen (Labour) have called for the planning procedures to be investigated by a third party. Dick Roche TD (Fianna Fail) has described the developments as "licensing land for house-building, you couldn't call it planning", while Liz McManus TD (Labour) is convinced that the council "got it wrong".