Westport area councillors began the arduous task of ploughing through 34 submissions relating to the Westport Town and Environs Draft Development Plan 2009, of which the vast majority related to land zoning, during a special meeting of the electoral area on Monday.
The plan which went on public display in February received 110 submissions by the deadline and 10 thereafter, with a total of 52 of these submissions relating to zoning. Director of services Peter Hynes explained that this development plan is being completed in a different economic climate from that of the 2005 plan, with new guidelines now in existence such as environmental assessments and recommendations from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There is considerable guidance on preparing development plans, such as the recommendation of scaling back zoned lands. After four hours of the meeting the advisory committee for the environs only managed to discuss as far as the third submission, as issues surrounding zoning dominated the meeting.
Councillors Austin Francis O’Malley and his party colleague John O’Malley were not happy with land being “de-zoned”. The chair of the committee, Cllr John O’Malley, said “All the hours which were spent on planning for the last plan were a waste of time” and that he can’t see himself “agreeing with this report”. The chairperson said that he wanted people to know that it was the Minister for the Environment, “dictator”, John Gormley who was making these changes, not the local councillors.
Fianna Fáil councillor Margaret Adams said what was “done five years ago was right then” and said that the plan should be left the way it is and to then consider any additional submissions made.
Fine Gael councillor Peter Flynn disagreed and said that as life has changed in the past few years the plan needs to be completely reworked, “in a responsible manner”, as did Cathaoirleach of the town, Cllr Myles Staunton.
Cllr Flynn also said that the forecast of a 3,000 population increase over the next few years for the area was unrealistic as the biggest challenge over the next few years would be to maintain the already declining population, with the councillor noting during the election trail that one in five residences in the Westport area were abandoned.
Mr Hynes reiterated to councillors that it is an entire review of the plan and advised them not to take a “blanket approach” as land zoned in the other plan can’t just be carried forward to this new plan.
Super low density for rural residential
Councillors considered the wording of a proposal which would see certain rural residential land zoned under a super low density category which would allow for high quality residential areas outside of the town, without impacting the environment. The committee was to discuss this proposal at a further meeting which was held later this week. The Town Council also met last night (Thursday ) to discuss submissions relating to the town area.