29 Sep 2008
I’m given to understand that not so long ago the planning-powers-that-be in County Clare decided that, where planning applications were to be refused, at least four reasons had to be cited. This, apparently, in an effort to ensure that any appeal to An Bord subsequent to the refusal would have less chance of succeeding.

Anyway. In one of the first ‘four reason’ refusals to have emerged, one of the reasons cited for turning down an application to build a family house was that the proposal didn’t comply with County Council’s policy of ‘encouraging’ people to move from rural to urban areas. Some legal folks have advised that ‘encouragement’ can’t be cited as a reason for refusal. In other words you can’t say just because you’re encouraging something to happen, you can refuse an application which doesn’t fit with your long term goal. It'll be interesting to see where this argument goes.

In a simultaneous development on the same matter, FF Councillor PJ Kelly is questioning the reasoning behind other aspects of the refusal. Apparently, in arriving at their decision, Council planners took account, as the development guidelines suggest, of the ‘applicant’s personal circumstances’ (Are you gay or straight? Do you take two sugars in your tea? Give me a break – one massive discrimination law suit in the making, I’m hoping). Councillor Kelly specifically wants to know how this ‘having to take personal circumstances into account’ squares up with a court decision - Flanagan v Galway County Council - where the court decided that ‘personal circumstances’ could not be taken into account when reaching a planning decision.

What happened was this: an application was made to Galway County Council to build a single family house which the Council officials were of a mind to refuse. The Councillors were aware that the applicant’s personal circumstances weren’t good so they decided to ignore the planner’s advice and invoke their powers under Section 4 of the planning act (the precursor to Section 140 of the 2000 Act) to allow the applicant to build his house. Discovering (in a funny incident in a bar) the reasons for the Councillor’s actions, Council officials were upset that ‘personal circumstances’ should be taken into account on planning decisions. They took their case to court and won. Now, ironically, planners, like  the lads in Clare, are trying to do exactly of what they once believed they weren’t supposed to be doing.

I understand PJ will be raising the issue at the Council meeting this evening. If I hear more, I’ll let you know.

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