16 Jun 2007

But how come I never hear from people in Donegal? All dead satisfied with how planning is going up there, are ye?

Well, first, let me pass on to those of you who didn’t see it in the papers earlier this week about the man who lodged a planning application near Ballybofey and was told that there was some serious, serious archaeology on his site. The Council thought the world was coming to an end and demanded all sorts of investigations. The applicant hired dozens of experts to get to the bottom of things. They took hundreds of photographs. They wrote thousands of words. They had meetings with the powers that be. The applicant paid them €35k in fees. 

Turned out it wasn’t some Bronze Age Proto Christian Monastic Clochán after all - just a big rock. 

But, I’m sure you’ll agree, money well spent. What if it actually had been archaeology? What would we have done then? 

(You know what, I shouldn’t be laughing. I myself write these types of heritage reports and send them into local authorities all the time. With the planning system the way it is, you do sometimes feel pressured into declaring the windows on some old building or other are actually from Ancient Carthage. Even though they’re plastic. So, some sympathy for the archaeologists please.)
 

And then, late last year in a story which didn’t get the attention it deserved, Donegal County Council put all the failings of the Irish planning system on show in one single instance that is sooo The Three Little Pigs it’s uncanny.

Once upon a time in Donegal, there was an old, detached building. It was wrecked to pieces on the inside but had a Victorian façade. The building was not included on the Record of Protected Structures so conservation shouldn’t have been an issue. A well meaning group of people offered to buy the building if they could get planning permission for a sheltered-housing-for- the-elderly type project. Even though they didn’t have to (because the building wasn’t listed) they were decent types so they offered to keep the Victorian façade. However, the project stumbled because, even though it wasn’t listed, the Council insisted that the wrecked interior be restored. The Council’s demands made the project infeasible, so the first bunch of people walked away from the deal.

A second bunch of people came along. They offered to buy the building if they could get planning permission for an apartment development. Even though it wasn’t listed, they, too, offered to keep the Victorian façade but the project stumbled because, even though it wasn’t listed, the Council insisted that the wrecked interior be restored. The Council’s demands made the project infeasible, so the second bunch of people walked away from the deal.
 

A third bunch of people came along and offered to buy the building if they could get planning permission for a commercial/residential type development (which the people of the town said wasn’t half as good as the previous proposal and only a tenth as good as the first one). Even though it wasn’t listed, they, too, offered to keep the Victorian façade but the project stumbled because, even thought it wasn’t listed, the Council insisted that the wrecked interior be restored. The Council’s demands made the project infeasible.

But the third bunch of people weren’t going to take things lying down. They retired to the site which was the subject of the planning application where they huffed and they puffed. And guess what? The building collapsed!

The people of the village were shocked. They assumed the third bunch of applicants would be arrested or at least charged for knocking a building which everyone else was told to keep. When nothing happened, the townsfolk marched on the Council. How could it be, they asked, that the first two applicants were turned away when they made decent proposals which included retaining part of the original structure but nothing happened to the third bunch of developers when they demolished the building? 

The man from the Council came out onto the balcony. ‘Citizens,’ he said. ‘Don’t be alarmed. The building wasn’t listed and the wolf was within his rights to blow it town. The first two little pigs should have been less naïve and realised we were only having a laugh at their expense. Now go home all of you and shut up.’

And they all went home and lived ever after. 

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