Westmeath based members of the Oireachtas along with members of Westmeath County Council have given their unanimous support to residents of The Orchard at a public meeting.
The construction of 32 private units at the site has been a bone of contention for residents when they were informed that the Housing Executive of Westmeath County Council had given approval for the entire development to be sold to Tuath Housing for their social housing scheme.
County councillors and member of the Oireachtas were in agreement that the current plan would have a negative impact on the current residents of The Orchard.
Examining the planning drawings, Cllr Louise Heavin indicated that the development does not reflect mixed tenure, stating that the dense cluster of social housing was not good practice and not right for the County Development Plan.
While addressing the crowd, Cllr Frankie Keena spoke about the negative impact to property value in the area, referring to the sale of a house falling through when the true purpose of the development became public knowledge. He then posed the question as to whether residents should be compensated for this. Highlighting proposed developments at Arcadia, Monte Vista and Moate, Cllr Keena also advised the public to be watchful of new developments which potentially could have their purpose changed in similar manner to The Orchard after planning permission was granted. When asked his opinion on the unfolding events, Minister Kevin “Boxer” Moran agreed that the approach used in the development was wrong, while suggesting that it is “probably occurring all over the country”. Peter Burke TD sympathised with residents, saying that the new development fails to meet the intentions of the sustainable communities’ guidance.
Deputy Moran, along with fellow Westmeath TDs Robert Troy and Peter Burke, gave a commitment to request an immediate meeting with Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy and Deputy Damien English (Department of Housing ) on the matter.
With regards to the planning, Cllr John Dolan insisted that the Town Planner had done their job correctly – pointing to elements of the original planning that had been changed in line with their review; however, he stated that the wool had been pulled over everyone’s eyes as to the true purpose of the development. He concluded by reassuring residents that a call to suspend all standing orders would be made at the next council sitting in order to discuss the development.
Senator Gab McFadden, who visited the site prior to the meeting, agreed with Cllr Dolan in that the development was not fair on current residents, while also noting that the situation would not be ideal for residents moving into the new development due to the nature of the current plan.
When asked his position, Cllr Jamie Moran stated that he was one hundred percent behind the residents of The Orchard.