Councillors reject obligation to put zoned land “beyond use”

Westmeath’s councillors have unanimously defied the wishes of the Local Government Minister and have refused to accept a variation to the County Development Plan to include a core strategy regarding zoning.

The core strategy proposed by county manager Danny McLoughlin was unanimously rejected by members, who had six weeks from mid-July to reach a decision.

Councillors felt changes could be made during the review of the County Development Plan, a draft of which will be available for November.

However, Mr McLoughlin repeatedly made the point that this variation, which puts a certain amount of land beyond use until 2014 is “not discretionary”.

“It is our statutory obligation to ensure land use and zoning are aligned to the Regional Planning Guidelines population targets,” he said.

Land was not being rezoned or dezoned but certain lands proposed by the executive were being “put beyond use”.

Where there is existing, active, live, planning permission, works can still go ahead and developers can apply for an extension of time, he said.

When the variation was originally mooted by the Minister, he said it would have been his preference that such decisions be made in the context of reviewing the County Development Plan, which has already begun.

But he said Minister Jan O’Sullivan insists that this core strategy is separate to those discussions, and has already written to the council, which is behind other local authorities in putting zoned lands beyond use.

He described it as “an interim position pending review of the County Development Plan”.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Aidan Davitt described the core strategy as “fundamentally flawed” and putting on his valuer’s hat, said zoned lands put beyond use, would not be worth much more than agricultural land.

Cllr Kevin “Boxer” Moran said the plan made no sense because it excluded Athlone.

He said it would make more sense to put lands which had flooded beyond use, because it was obvious they couldn’t be developed.

“You’re wrong to jump with the Government on this,” he told the manager.

Both he and Cllr Mick Dollard said decisions could be made at local area meetings about which lands should be put beyond use and which should retain their status.

Devaluing zoned lands would just put some developers “into the hands of the banks”, Cllr Moran said.

“People will be shocked - a lot of people don’t know what’s going on,” he concluded.

Councillors Arthur, Hill, McDermott, Fintan Cooney, and others proposed a number of variations to the plan relating to specific areas including Collinstown and Rochfortbridge.

But in the end all councillors rejected the manager’s proposal as it stood.

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