Continuing its vein of defiance from last week, Westmeath County Council voted to allow an abattoir be built in a residential area, contrary to the wishes of both the planning department and An Bord Pleanála.
In a continuation of last week’s controversy - when the council voted to include a mandatory separation gap between wind turbines and houses more than three times the State’s recommendation - it was, again, suggested amendments to the draft County Development Plan for 2014-2020 (CDP ) that polarized the room.
This week, September 23, it was the turn of the individual village plans within the draft CDP to be amended.
Although most proceeded without debate, this was not the case with Kilbeggan, as Cllr Colm Arthur sought once again to have a section of the Dunbia campus on the Clara Road re-zoned to allow the meat-packing firm construct an abattoir.
This wasn’t the first time Cllr Arthur had supported this highly unpopular move, having attempted it in July 2011, when he failed by the narrowest of margins to have the site re-zoned against the wishes of up to 500 objectors, a decision he described as: “nothing short of economic treason against our countrymen”.
Estimated numbers of new jobs for the site ranged between 20 and 120 at the time.
Planning permission for the €12m development was refused by the planning department the day after the council meeting, and Dunbia - Westmeath’s largest, Irish-owned employer - immediately appealed to An Bord Pleanála, but were turned down again that December.
This week, in the second council meeting to discuss the next CDP, Cllr Arthur sought this time to get the contentious zoning amendment in at the draft stage, only for Cllr Joe Flanagan to voice his immediate - and continued - opposition to this.
He was supported in this by councillors Denis Leonard, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, and Gabrielle McFadden.
“This is in the middle of four housing estates. It’s completely inappropriate,” said Cllr Leonard.
Cllr Moran declared this move as: “wrong, unjustified, and outrageous. I ask you, would you like a slaughterhouse on your doorstep?”.
However, with four absentees from the chamber - councillors Dollard, Corcoran, Glynn, and Shaw - the remaining 15 councillors easily defeated the anti-rezoning bloc, and got this controversial, corporation-friendly amendment into the draft plan.
“We shouldn’t listen to this advice, and shouldn’t abuse our powers just for one industry,” said Cllr Moran to his opposing colleagues.
However, as with the amendment last week to set turbines 10 times their height away from houses, it is nigh on impossible for such local moves that contravene strategic national policy to be adopted.
“It is very rare for An Bord Pleanála to overturn a Bord Pleanála decision. It’s never happened,” said Cllr Flanagan after the meeting.
“It’s a bit mischievous on behalf of Cllr Arthur,” he continued, before pointing out that the Dunbia position might have elicited a bit more sympathy had they not recently sold an abattoir a mile away from its Clara Road facility.