Spatial strategy plan focuses too much on Dublin and cities
Councillors received a report on the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) with many feeling the document was too focused on Dublin and didn't address the needs of rural communities.
Jim Conway and Malachy Bradley of the Eastern and Midlands Regional Assembly (EMRA) delivered the presentation in the Council Chamber. The objective of the strategy is to provide a long-term strategic planning and economic framework for the development of the region which shall be consistent with the National Spatial Strategy and the economic policies or objectives of the Government.
Cathaoirleach Edward Timmins said he had two stand-out concerns regarding the EMRA, one revolving around planning and the other on population targets.
'Regarding rural planning there is talk about removing the 'social need' aspect. Rural planning is already very restrictive in Wicklow and I would be very concerned if the omission of 'social need' became policy. It's very important for people who want to live next door to their elderly parents, for instance. Also the population targets being suggested are completely off the rails. There is talk about restricting the growth in towns and villages by 15 per cent up until 2040. Based on the 2016 Census, that would meant that a village like Dunlavin could only increase by 60 people up to 2028. Roundwood would be very similar. The growth restrictions are completely out of kilter with what we have in our County Development Plan.'
Cllr Miriam Murphy had major concerns over rural transport.
'We are meant to be living in a modern world but there are major transport issues, especially in many rural areas of the county. You can't get a bus to Glendalough from most towns and villages in Wicklow. There are issues with the 133 service, major problems. People are standing for up to two hours at bus stops. There are also huge problems over accessibility, both by bus and train. We may be the Garden of Ireland but transport for tourism is pretty much non-existent.'
Cllr Steven Matthews said: 'There seems to be a wedge between urban and rural with little regard paid to rural communities.'
Cllr Derek Mitchell felt infrastructural improvements weren't taking place to cope with the amount of new housing coming on stream.
'At the moment there are a very large amount of houses being built in parts of County Wicklow. You have massive tailbacks on the N11. At the same time Central Dublin has hardly expanded at all, yet all the transport additions taking place are going there.
'We are building a doughnut city with no one living in the middle. In Wicklow we have some of the longest commuter times in the country. We need better investment in transport.'
Cllr Irene Winters also felt there was too much focus on urban renewal, with little regard for rural communities.
'You will have schools closing down in rural areas or losing staff numbers because of a lack of numbers. That just means more urban schools will be placed under pressure to facilitate children who no longer have as local school option.'
Cllr Sylvester Bourke said: 'There are three schools in my area which are losing teachers and struggling to survive. This 15 per cent restriction could possibly finish them off. Do we really want to finish off rural post offices as well? There is too much of a 'top down' approach being taken here, when it should be from the bottom up instead.'
Cllr Gerry Walsh stated: 'It's very Dublin focused. Wicklow is unique in that we are divided by the mountains and west Wicklow is often almost forgotten about. Restricting measures on population growth could have a negative impact and I would have a lot of reservations over the framework.'
Cllr Grainne McLoughlin failed to see any benefits for Bray and Greystones.
'Bray and Greystones are going to be included in the greater Dublin area but what does that mean? So far it just means we get more housing but no better infrastructure or industry. In Greystones only 16 per cent of people work within the town. It's only 29 per cent in Bray. How are these people meant to commute? The height of buildings in Dublin will have to go up and development has to start taking place.'
Cllr Pat Vance felt counties neighbouring Dublin had been left taking the burden because of the lack of residential development taking place in the centre of the capital.
'Wicklow, Meath and Kildare are taking the brunt of housing because Dublin has failed to develop but we aren't getting any of the benefits.'
Cllr Gerry O'Neill stated that the restrictions to the growth of towns and villages would have a negative impact.
'In one way you are talking about building up rural communities and on the other hand you aren't. Look at the N81 improvement scheme. It has now been left in limbo with the carriageway from Hollywood to Tallaght suspended.
'Every morning cars are backed up on the N81 for two to three miles. You have seven times the amount of head on collisions on the N81 than anywhere else in the country.'
Cllr Gail Dunne said: 'In Wicklow town if you go on to Daft.ie you can't find a house to rent. The prices of houses are going up all the time as well.
'We dezoned land in Rathnew so we could build and now we are talking about restricting growth.'
Cllr Oliver O'Brien commented: 'This will just create an even bigger divide between urban and rural.'
Cllr Vincent Blake was of the opinion that a lack of 'joined up thinking' often held certain communities back.
'Look at the problem in Dunlavin. Millions were spent on sewage but there is no water in it. The big problem is the lack of joined-up thinking. We need to develop in a coherent fashion with small amounts of houses built each year to sustain things.'
Cllr Pat Kennedy said people had a right to live in their own rural community, just as their parents had.