Residential zoning for potential flood plain leads to first pre-election spat

Local Election pressure was eveident this week after a first-time candidate criticised his outgoing competitors following a vote to maintain the zoning status on a parcel of land in direct contravention of expert advice.

At last month’s Westmeath County Council meeting members voted unanimously on an amendment to the County Development Plan 2014-20 to keep 16Ha (40ac ) of land at Brookfield off the C-Link as residential, despite advice from the OPW and the county manager to re-zone it ‘open space’.

“This decision made by your councillors went totally against all expert advice,” said Local Election candidate in the new Mullingar-Kilbeggan area, Chris Murtagh.

“I believe strongly that this land should be zoned ‘open space’ as there is ample lands zoned for residential development around Mullingar... The last thing we need is another 3-400 houses in this area,” he added.

The parcel of land is immediately to the right of the C-Link as you drive away from the hospital roundabout, and is owned by relatives of Cllr Gabrielle McFadden who excused herself from the vote on January 21.

According to projections within this CDP, Mullingar will need approximately 190Ha of land zoned ‘residential’ to accommodate the expected population growth to 31,000 over the next six years.

It already has 180Ha thus zoned in the local area plans for Robinstown, Ardmore/Marlinstown, and Mullingar South.

Also, in the recommendation from the OPW to the council, it was pointed out that this land at Brookfield “may play an important role in the attenuation of potential flooding in the town, and the proposal to zone these lands for residential development contravenes the planning guidelines on flood risk”.

However, this did not impress the sitting councillors, and led by Cllrs Fintan Cooney (FG ) and Avril Whitney (FF ), they voted to ignore this advice and maintain the residential zoning on this piece of land.

Though both councillors had different reasons for their decision, both conceded if this piece of land was put forward for a planning application in the future it would be subject to a full flood assessment and may not get the permission required.

Cllr Cooney voted against the recommendation as a protest against the growing influence of Central Government to the detriment of local authorities.

“We have the most centralised Government in the OECD, and it’s a pity. Local Government should run its own things, and we should have a statutory role in policy making,” he said. He believes an influence on the CDP is one of the few remaining places this can happen.

The reason Cllr Whitney said she was “happy to support Cllr Cooney” was that: “Professionals at Westmeath County Council gave [outline] permission to adjacent lands last year and there were no concerns voiced then”.

However, candidate Murtagh (a party colleague of Cllr Cooney ) promised that, if elected, he would urge the Minister for the Environment “to ensure the CDP is in line with guidelines published, and that the presently zoned residential land is re-zoned open space”.

The CDP comes into force on Tuesday February 18, and can only be amended by Ministerial edict or material contravention at council level.

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