Councillors to seek legal opinion on planning discussions

Cllr Michael Smyth

Cllr Michael Smyth

Mayo county councillors are to seek their own legal advice on foot of legal advice obtained by Mayo County Council with regard to the discussion of planning matters at meetings of the local authority.

A special meeting of the council took place on Monday afternoon to discuss the removal of planning as an item for discussion at council meetings; this came on foot of a circular issued by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to the chief executives of local authorities around the country in March this year.

At the start of Monday's meeting, the elected members were informed by Cathaoirleach Cllr Blackie Gavin that the council had obtained legal advice on the matter from Mr Patrick A Butler, who advised the chief executive of the council should abide by the direction in the circular and not reinstate planning discussions onto the agenda of the council.

The elected members adjourned the meeting for half an hour to consider the legal advice, copies of which were handed out to them in the chamber by the Cathaoirleach.

When the councillors returned to the chamber after considering the legal advice supplied, Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael Smyth told the meeting that he had himself written to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, in relation to the issue, outlining several points that he sought clarification on from the circular issued by his Department.

Cllr Smyth proposed a deferral of the meeting saying: "I am proposing that we defer the meeting until we get a reply from the Minister and I don't propose that we should let it lie either and that we have a workshop on the issues that have been raised, so that we can deal with the Minister and the issues raised with the executive that can be addressed."

Sinn Féin Cllr Gerry Murray backed the proposal, stating: "I'll second that, we've had these showdowns before at county development plan stages and what has happened in the past is when we have gone toe-to-toe with a government department and government of any hue is that we usually come back with a deal that makes us worse off. I would be very conscious that whatever strategy we come up with here, we don't come back with a situation where we come under a far more tougher regime than we are currently under at the moment.

"On two occasions in the past when we had government intervention here in development plans we ended up in a worse situation, there was concessions made on one hand by them, but they came along and looked at all the amendments to it and modified and amended some elements we had no problem with and it ended up with what we gained in one section we lost in another. At the moment, we have an informal situation with the planners and a bit of latitude there and I don't want to see that bit of latitude lost and I am conscious that we have very significant legal opinion here and I don't want to see us end up worse off.

Independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne also supported the proposal telling the meeting: "What we have is an opinionand opinion is different from advice, sometimes advice can be different from opinion. I am proposing that we as elected members seek our own advice under the relveant act to seek our own independent legal opinion. It may well be the same it may be different. I am proposing the name of Yvonne Scannell."

"I don't think there is a single councillor here who thinks we should be making planning decisions, that is a matter for the planners and the chief executive, what we are saying is that we are right to raise issues and ask questions if we believe a planning refusal contravenes the development plan."

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