4 Jul 2008

It's Fourth of July, so, God Bless America:

I spent a bit of time lately checking out various planning situations in Wicklow which folks had brought to my attention.  Mainly, I was interested in getting my head around that Abwood mystery you might have read about where a factory owner on the N11 extended his premises, was ordered by the Council to stop, lodged an application for retention, site rezoning required, everybody singing from different hymn sheets and whatever and so on and such.

Anyway, more on that next week. In the course of my perusals I came across a predicament where an applicant was looking for permission to build a house in a visually sensitive area. ‘Local/rural need’ rules applied as well. Now, I don’t know how someone with a degree in spatial planning is considered qualified to rule on a housing matter based on an opinion of people’s personal circumstances – surely this is something that can only really be decided by the courts: or, at least by people with some kind of professional background in community law: or, at least by some non-partisan authority. Anyway, leaving aside all of that (which one day will be the subject of a massive Tribunal), one of the things the planner’s report mentioned was that, while the proposed house wasn’t visually intrusive in the visually sensitive area, the Sugarloaf Mountain was visible from the site. And this, somehow… contributed to the fact that the planner was recommending a refusal. 

Now. Can you imagine proposing a housing development in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown from which site the Dublin Mountains wouldn’t be visible? If visibility of the Dublin Mountains, Howth Head, Lambay Island and the Wicklow Mountains were a criteria for future development, Dublin wouldn’t exist. In fact, no matter where your site for proposed development is located in this country, some natural feature is going to be visible.

The applicant in question doesn’t have the resources necessary to make the planning authority see things in the way that resources tend to make planning authorities see things. So his only hope is to wait for a change of personnel where, as usual, there’s a fifty/fifty chance that some new planner will interpret ‘local need’ and ‘visual sensitivity’ guidelines in a different way.

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Just a quick word on a ‘local need’ story in Clare (where else?). This week’s Champion has an article about a young man, Robert O’Neill, who, in 2006, applied for permission to build a house for himself adjacent to his parents’ house in a rural area. The 27 year old suffers from an exceptionally debilitating genetic skin disease which will lead (if it hasn’t already) to him having part of his leg amputated. In other words, his case is extremely special. The Council dragged their heels and eventually indicated that they would be refusing his application. Robert says that the stress of dealing with the Council actually made his condition worse. He eventually got planning.

No way to run a country. We’re all complicit.

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Only a couple of months back, Dun Laoighre Rathdown announced what amounted to a moratorium - a ban, in other words - on pretty much all future development in the Sandyford area because the sewage and water supply systems were stretched beyond capacity. The Times report from February ran as follows:

Developments of more than two residential units, or the equivalent amount of commercial space, will not be granted planning permission. The drainage problem was identified when sewer pipes of an inadequate capacity were found between the Sandyford / Stillorgan catchment area and the West Pier pumping station.

‘‘These pipes will need to be upgraded,” Keegan (Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Manager) said. ‘‘The council is proceeding to plan the necessary upgrade work. (A previously published) study has also recommended the construction of foul water storage facilities at different locations in the catchment area with a possible new overflow to the surface water system during significant rainfall.”

Does anyone know the precise reason why this moratorium – which applied to some of the most overpriced-yet-to-be-developed land in the country – was so suddenly turned around just a couple of weeks ago? Were the pipes upgraded? Is the sewage system improved? Has the local authority got its act together? What’s the deal here - anybody know what happened? Point me to some file and I’ll go looking. 

Meanwhile, happy planning!

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