26 Jun 2008

Never before having read the Mail on Sunday, I missed this recent article:  

'ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley may be forced to make an unprecedented move and abolish Clare County Council to settle a row between the county -manager, Alec Fleming, and local councillors. The row was sparked when 29 of Clare's 32 councillors voted this week to breach the county plan and override the decision of planning officials in order to grant businessman Gerry Danagher permission to build on a scenic site in Corofin. It was the first time in 25 years that Clare councillors have voted to contravene the county development plan.
 
Mr Danagher had already failed four times to get permission to build on the controversial site. He withdrew his last planning application for the site two years ago, having been told the planners would refuse it on five grounds, one of which was that building on the site would be 'prejudicial to public health'.Hundreds of other applicants had previously been refused permission to build in the area - because they don't qualify under the county's 'locals only' rule.

The councillors' action is the latest in a six-month stand-off with planning officials which began when planners' union representatives made an official complaint about alleged 'bullying' by politicians. The union complained that councillors were coming in and sitting on their desks and exerting pressure to pass certain planning applications. Since then, there has been a de facto ban on councillors entering the planning offices. The councillors are now engaged in an unofficial boycott and are refusing to sign off on the council's annual financial statement.

If they fail to sign the statement at their AGM on June 30, the county manager will be obliged by law to ask Minister Gormley to abolish the council and appoint a commissioner to make all decisions for them. It would be the first time since the Eighties that a local authority has been abolished.

Councillors told the Irish Mail on Sunday the decision to grant Mr Danagher special exemption was a deliberately provocative message to planning officials that councillors are taking back control of the planning process...'

Well, it’s interesting to see a national (we’ll have to come up with another word to describe the Mail on Sunday) paper finally cover the situation in Clare. However, the developing crisis is told in a way that suggests its all about the Danaher planning application. This isn’t the case. The truth is that the argument between Councillors and planners has been raging in Clare for years. Councillors, chiefly FF’s PJ Kelly whose knowledge of planning legislation and case law is like something out of CSI, has been finding flaws, inaccuracies and shenanigans in Clare planners’ decisions for as far back as planning has sucked. Kelly’s crusade against all sorts of planning nonsense coupled with a cross party view that local planning belongs in the hands of the people and not with some bureaucracy-peddling band of Dublin appointed propagandists has led to a situation where the elected Council members and Council officials are living separate lives.

There have been a number of flare ups in the past year or two. The most significant one, not alluded to in the Mail piece, was that situation in Inagh where an application for a housing development was given de facto approval because the planning department messed up on dates. The missed deadline was unfortunate. The (alleged) attempt to cover up the situation by the Council (including an allegation of dates on documents being favourably changed and applicants being given an alleged sweetheart deal if they resubmitted their application, etc.) sent the Councillor’s apoplectic.

Also a situation from about a year ago where the late, venerable architect and lawyer David Keane wrote the most stinging criticism of the Clare planning department during which he pointed out that he didn’t think ‘the county council knew what planning was for’ and which letter was later removed from the planning file to which it related, was another serious situation that, whoever prompted the Mail to write their piece last Sunday, forgot to mention.  

Thursday, 26 June 2008 14:47:52 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I'd love to read David Keane's letter, you don't happen to have a copy Garry?? Also do you know why there is no 'Senior Planner' appointment yet in Clare County Council (since Liam Conneely left in Nov. 07)? I understand that the post was advertised but has not been filled but am open to correction. The role of 'Acting Senior Planner' seems to refer to different individuals at different times!

Regards,

Emer.
Emer Butler
Thursday, 26 June 2008 18:08:24 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Emer, because David Keane's letter is so long and also because it requires bit of context-setting in order to make sense, I've just posted the whole thing - letter and background leading up to it - as a brand new post which you'll find on the home page. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about it.

Regarding the filling of the new Senior Planner post in Clare, I have no new information but I will make it my business to find out.

Perhaps, given the county's experience with previous Senior Planners, they are taking more time to ensure the replacement is less, shall we say, 'colourful'?
Garry
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