27th March 2009

West Council calls for more favourable planning decisions

The Council for the West has again called for a shake-up of the planning laws of the country which, it says, are counter-productive to rural development and sustainability.The Council made its first call for a more sensible approach to planning three years ago following objections to two planned developments, in Boyle, County Roscommon, and in Rossinver village in Co Leitrim. Upwards of 600 jobs and inward investment were lost.At that time the Council drew attention to the fact that objections to the two proposals had been lodged with An Bord Pleanala by outside bodies that had effectively usurped the will and desire of local communities and local planners.Council chairman Sean Hannick said planning objections were still part and parcel of the landscape while the fortunes of rural communities had deteriorated alarmingly in the economic downturn.“People are being forced to emigrate because of dwindling job opportunities here, while at the same time opportunities to create long term sustainable employment are being lost because of objections,” he said.He said there was something dramatically wrong with the system whereby anyone could put a 20 euro note in an envelope and hold up a multi-million euro project on flimsy grounds. And he said it was incomprehensible that somebody from Kerry or Dublin could, without having any tangible connection, object to a project in Donegal. Very often the objections could not be sustained, but An Bord Pleanala could find some other pretext to knock the project on the head.“It is now extremely difficult for most employment-creating projects, either emanating outside the country or from within, to commence the planning process. The cost of seeking planning can cost a company many millions, with a strong emphasis on addressing likely environmental concerns and yet can be thrown out, some times on the most spurious grounds, and often based on personal hang-ups,” he said, adding that this approach was very wrong, and very selfish in that it destroyed many good employment opportunities.Mr Hannick said the objectors could derail any project, or cause it serious setbacks, and the consequences were enormous: inward investment turned on its heel and walked away, jobs were lost and local communities who had tried to encourage development were beaten into the ground.“The world has changed, and the level of competition for scarce investment has become fierce, so it behoves us as a nation and as a people to find a better way to deal with planning issues.  The Council for the West does not in any way advocate taking projects at the expense of our environment. However, a town or a village is not a community without its people and if people are losing out because planning objections are going overboard then we must ask if the system in skewed in favour of the objector,” he said.He said it appeared green policies, or a least the way they were being applied, didn’t appear to be conducive to developing or indeed shoring up smaller towns and villages at risk.  And he questioned if it was good policy to herd people into major towns and cities. “We must be mindful that 80% of our people live outside Galway city, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar and Ballina, the only large towns in the region” he said.Mr Hannick appealed to government to amend planning to assist large job-creating projects in rural areas, and such projects, he argued, that require planning permission should be taken some other way through the planning system similar to the strategic infrastructure section of An Bord Pleanala to ensure that genuine projects that do not threaten the environment have a positive outcome.