Sunday 26 February 2017

'City of Tribes' was rare sane voice in planning

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

ONE is a city that's one of the fastest growing in the country; the other is a predominantly rural county.

And while it may have been expected that Galway city councillors would have overzoned residential land to cope with demand, in fact they did the opposite.

Figures from the Department of the Environment show that the City of the Tribes was one of the best local authorities for adopting sensible zoning policies -- just 266 hectares of land have been zoned, 14 more hectares than needed or a 6pc excess.

By contrast, in Co Roscommon --the worst offending county -- councillors deemed a staggering 1,345 hectares suitable for housing and apartments when just 104 hectares were needed -- 12 times (1,193pc) more than required.

Mayor of Roscommon County Council, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan (independent), claimed the reason for the zoning madness was clear -- pressure from developers.

First elected to the council in 2004, Mr Flanagan said he was rarely approached to help rezone land because he would have named and shamed the speculators in the council chambers.

Terrified

"I would have been less in on it than anyone; apparently I have a big mouth," he said.

"We had a tax incentive in the county which made it viable to build a house and leave it there unoccupied. There was more land zoned in 2008 during the county development plan.

"Councillors had people ringing them left, right and centre," he added.

"I got two phone calls asking for my support. My attitude was there was enough land rezoned and enough houses for 50 years. Councillors weren't really raising concerns. They were terrified of being accused of being anti-development."

But in Galway city, where the population rose by 10pc to 72,414 between 2002 and 2006, councillors heeded the advice of planners.

Independent Councillor Catherine Connolly was city mayor when the 2005 development plan was finalised.

"The pressure was never on residential, it was always on commercial responding to pressure from developers and landowners," she said.

"The planners have always been consistent in their advice. They tell us what's necessary and not to go beyond that. I would be critical of the council but not the good advice from the planners.

"We never went for residential zonings against the planners' advice," she added.

Irish Independent

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