The Galway County Council has been found to be one of the worst local authorities in the country for making bad planning decisions which have resulted in negative socio-economic and environmental concerns.
‘State of the Nation: A Review of Ireland’s Planning Systems 2000 - 2011’ published this week graded 34 city and county councils from A to F using eight objective criteria, such as the percentage of planning decisions appealed to An Bord Pleanála that were reversed, the percentage of vacant housing stock, land rezonings, water quality, and one-off houses granted permission. Out of a maximum score of 272 Galway County Council only managed a score of 83 points or 31 per cent, resulting in a poor ‘F’ grade and a ranking of 28th place shared with Cavan Council. While no local authority received higher than a ‘C’ grade there was some good news for Galway City Council which achieved a third place ranking behind South Dublin and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown. Galway City Council received an overall scoring of 190 or 70 per cent, resulting in a ‘C’ grade.
The report also looked at development proposals on flood plains and found them to be “senselessly zoned by councils”, a situation which has been regulated more since the introduction of the Flood Risk Assessment and Management Guidelines in late 2009, following some of Ireland’s worst recorded flooding affecting many areas of Galway. Significant refusals by An Bord Pleanála in appeals taken by An Taisce against development proposals by Galway County Council on flood plains include a mixed-use development including 39 apartments at Kincha Road, Gort, on June 24, 2009; 15 houses at Furbo on November 16, 2009; 48 house development at Castlegar, Mountbellew, on February 17, 2009; and a development at Oranmore involving 56 houses and seven apartments with areas for a school and soccer pitch on July 24, 2009.
The report stated that “Bad planning is not victim free”. The analysis showed there is a very strong correlation between councils that have scored poorly and a range of negative socio-economic and environmental outcomes. Councils that scored poorly generally had the highest rate of residential vacancy, the highest rate of population decline and out-migration, the highest levels of unfinished ‘Ghost Estates’, lower residential property prices, and significant instances of ground and surface water pollution. An Taisce found that these legacy costs of bad planning will affect people living in these areas, and Irish society as a whole, for many generations.
An Taisce has made a number of recommendations including a call for the setting up of an independent planning regulator free from political pressure; for the National Spatial Strategy (NSS ) and future National Development Plans (NDPs ) to be put on a statutory footing; for a move towards a regional governance structure for planning and development; for enforcement to be urgently improved; and for serious reform of local authority structures that return proper trustworthy and accountable local democracy to the people.