15 Dec 2006

You’ll have noticed a lot of planning related stories about Greystones in the newspapers lately. 

There are two separate issues. First, the town recently renewed its development plan and, as part of the to and fro that goes with the territory, proposals to rezone an area for residential development in Charlesland were introduced and then approved by the councillors very, very late in the game. The land owner successfully argued that his property should be rezoned from ‘industrial’ to ‘residential’. In exchange for the lotto sized windfall he’d create some community facilities. It’s going on everywhere (indeed there are similar lower profile cases in Greystones as well).

The second situation is more complex. For about twenty years they have been talking about building a Med style marina near the little harbour which is the very centre of the town. Plans were published in the mid nineties at which point it was realised that funding for the marina was only possible if it formed part of a larger development which would, of course, have to include apartments. So we went from a marina to a whole new part of town. A ‘Marbella’, as it were.

In 2004 Wicklow County Council moved the proposal forward. They decided to go the public private partnership (PPP) route which is where a public entity (in this case the County Council) twins with a private financier to facilitate development of a scale or type which neither could achieve on their own. The Council advertised for partners, went through an interview process (in other words, everything was ‘open, above board and beyond scrutiny’, etc.) and eventually hooked up with a company called Sispar. Together, they put together a plan which involves reshaping the coastline north of the harbour and introducing a new precinct of apartments, pedestrianized walkways and squares – the  Marbella we spoke about (http://www.wicklow.ie/SpecialProjects/index.htm). As the County Council was more or less acting as an applicant, the whole package was handed over to An Bord Planala to make a decision (which is funny in itself, but a discussion for another day…).

The marina proposal is very controversial. Some local people are vehemently opposed to it which is understandable because, if development goes ahead, Greystones, which is such a great place, will be changed absolutely and completely beyond all recognition. (An email I received from someone local to the situation described the proposal as ‘unmerciful’.)

Because it looks as if An Bord Planala might be about to approve the Marbella development at a time which coincides with the controversial rezonings, the general tone of debate on planning in Greystones has become frenzied. Unfortunately, the system, such as is it is, is running its course and an end is near. All that’s left to do is bang a drum for which ever side you support and let things reach their muddled conclusion. No time left for debate on the big picture. The situation, which is being repeated all over the country, is drifting its way toward an arrangement which will be satisfactory to few.

This is because we as a community, as well as our local and national representatives, are not taking the time to look at the overall picture of what’s going wrong with planning as well as the concepts we need to be addressing to bring about change.

Since the foundation of the State we, the Irish, have never had a clear idea of the correct role for the State and, by extension, the Local Authority in planning our environment. And despite the immense cost to us as taxpayers, we have no notion of how the development plan should be serving us - is the purpose of the plan to invite development? to control development? to map out streets and parks? to provide infrastructure to developers? Indeed, to act as a developer (as they are in Greystones)?

This, I feel, is what should have happened:

Greystones is a distinct community. It is its own entity. It should be allowed make decisions for itself without the interference of the county, except in cases where the county’s interests are at stake, or the State, except where’s the State’s interests are at stake.

To allow this to happen, yearly plebiscites should be held on larger issues facing the community. For example, a lot of time and effort would have been saved if in the annual plebiscite of 1997 the people of Greystones had been asked the simple question, do you support the development of a new Marbella precinct on the north side of town: Yes or No?

And similarly on the rezoning issues. Instead of going through the costly and time wasting charade of publishing a new development plan every six years, communities should do it once and get it right. The plan should be detailed enough to facilitate the agreed nature and scale of development into at least a twenty year future whether the allowed for development takes place or not. Major changes to the original plan should, again, be made only after agreement by plebiscite upon proposals put forward by members of the Council and reported on by planning personnel.

And, above all, development plans must be much, much more detailed than those we’ve become used to. We want maps, pictures, streets, squares, proposals which demonstrate an efficient use of space and clear location of future facilities.

Remember, just a few weeks in Dingle the local community voted over a simple name change.

Comments are closed.