It’s not de-zoning, it’s not re-zoning, it’s just prioritising - and the council is not obliged to take responsibility for any losses landowners suffered if they made plans because their land was zoned.
“People have to be aware that when they purchase land, the county council has the power to rezone without penalty,” said county manager Danny McLoughlin as he was quizzed about the impact a new zoning prioritization plan will have on land values at a recent meeting of Westmeath County Council.
“Nothing has changed, we always had the power to phase the development of land,” he told Cllr Paddy Hill, who questioned what would happen to people who bought land, sometimes with huge mortgages, on the strength of zoning.
“We’re phasing, saying the lands are premature,” was the manager’s response to Cllr Fintan Cooney, who wanted to know if the council was dezoning.
Barry Kehoe, the county’s director of services for planning, explained in detail how Westmeath has far too much land zoned for future residential use.
Speaking after the meeting he said the excess zoning wasn’t a result of the council getting it wrong, but he said the time frames for planning had changed and zoning must now be within Regional Planning Guidelines, from census to census.
The 20 year plan last adopted by the council looked too far ahead, and now the council is being forced to take a more short term view, taking into consideration population growth and related factors.
All the council needs to comply with guidelines to 2014 is 174 hectares, but many hundreds more are already zoned.
In Mullingar, just 65 hectares are required, and around Athlone just 50ha while 58.5ha are required in the rest of the county. Some 745ha had been zoned.
County manager Danny McLoughlin said the move is “a transitional adjustment to allow us to comply with statutory requirements”.
Mr Kehoe said the guidelines also mean that Castlepollard is a key service town and is higher now on RPG settlement rankings than the council placed it, now above Moate, Kilbeggan, and Kinnegad and just behind Mullingar and Athlone.
The motion to adopt the measure was passed, but not before Cllr Colm Arthur gave an impassioned speech on the need to correct the view the public has of local government.
Referring to the Mahon Tribunal report, he said “a cradle of corruption which led to greed and arrogance among certain people” had been revealed.
He said Rochfortbridge had been “decimated” by zoning that took place there, and approved the council’s plan wholeheartedly.