Wednesday, 24 October 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Timmins: While I acknowledge the competence of the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, I regret the Minister for the Environment and Local Government could not be present. I believe he may have tried to side-step me on this important and pertinent issue.
The strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area were published in March 1999 and set out an integrated land use and transportation framework for sustainable development in the greater Dublin area which encompasses Dublin city and county along with counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. I will deal with one specific aspect of those guidelines which were incorporated into law as part of the Planning and Development Act, 2000. The people who drew them up and certainly the politicians involved in drawing them up did not see them becoming law at the time.
The guidelines identify both areas for growth and what is called the metropolitan area. With respect to Wicklow, the areas of Bray, Greystones and Delgany are within the metropolitan area. Outside that, Wicklow town is identified as a primary growth centre and Arklow as a secondary one. The guidelines state that growth in these areas would be for the overflow from the Dublin city area, so to speak. For want of a better description – Dubs could live in these areas. Outside these areas, growth would be limited strictly to local growth. The guidelines do not define what this meant.
In Wicklow we drew up development plans for Kilcoole and Newtownmountkennedy. The amount of land zoned exceeded what was interpreted as being required for local growth. The Minister intervened and requested that the plans be changed to allow for downsizing of the population estimate given that it would deal only with local growth.
In recent months Wicklow County Council, following the advice of the manager, has introduced a variation to the county development plan based on an interpretation by management of the strategic planning guidelines which, in essence, means that people outside Wicklow cannot buy a new house outside Bray, Greystones, Delgany, Wicklow or Arklow. This decision was made on the basis of a literal interpretation of the strategic planning guidelines. I have sought to establish from the Minister if this is a correct interpretation. To the best of my knowledge neither Dublin city nor county nor Meath nor Kildare have followed suit.
I have serious concerns about this interpreta tion because one of the main reasons for it is that it would make houses cheaper for locals. More than 60% of the population of County Wicklow lives in Bray, Greystones, Delgany, Arklow and Wicklow. These are the only places in County Wicklow in which people from outside it will be allowed to live. This means competition for housing in these areas will be greater and house prices will increase while, in the remainder of the county, houses will not be built because developers will move to neighbouring counties where there will be no restriction on the people who can purchase houses. It has been a condition of the granting of some planning permissions in Wicklow that the local authority more or less vets the applicants.
Apart from the fact that I would have a difficulty with the principle, given that there is enough division in society without creating more man-made ones, it will give rise to stagnation in many towns and villages in County Wicklow. The interpretation of Wicklow County Council is either right or wrong. If it is wrong, the Minister should let the council know and, if it is correct, he should ensure Dublin, Meath and Kildare follow suit. I tabled a parliamentary question on this today and the Minister said in reply that the development plans for Meath and Wicklow have since been adopted. My understanding is that Meath has not followed suit. Permission has been granted for houses in Trim which anyone can purchase.
This is an anti-social, divisive and unworkable measure. I seek some guidance from the Minister rather than efforts to side-step the issue. I have tabled questions on this, the responses to which have been unclear. I have also written to the Minister and have not received a clear response. I do not know if the Minister, Deputy Jacob, can help me, but it is a matter I will pursue until I obtain a correct answer.
Mr. Jacob: I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue which I will address as the Minister is unable to attend this evening. I know that he has pursued this in the past and the Minister wanted to be here to discuss the matter with him.
The strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, published in March 1999, set out an integrated land use and transportation framework for the sustainable development of the greater Dublin area. They were commissioned by the constituent local authorities in the Dublin and mid-east regional authorities. The Department of the Environment and Local Government also participated in the preparatory process. The guidelines were prepared with the full and active involvement of all the local planning authorities in the region. It is important to stress this point to dispel any suggestion that they were prepared by outside interests and imposed on the local authorities.
 The strategic planning guidelines set out a coherent strategic planning framework for local authority development plans and for the provision of major transportation, sanitary services and other infrastructure. They set out separate development strategies for the metropolitan area and the hinterland area, as defined in the guidelines. The metropolitan area, that is, the built up area of Dublin and its immediate environs, is to be consolidated through development at higher densities, redevelopment of brownfield sites and intensification of uses. In the hinterland area, growth is to be concentrated in identified development centres of Naas-Newbridge-Kilcullen, Navan, Balbriggan, Wicklow and Drogheda. These centres are to develop as self-sufficient towns and housing development is to be matched by similar growth in employment and service provision. Outside the metropolitan area and the hinterland's development centres, development is to be primarily to meet local, rather than regional, need.
In advance of new legislation to give statutory force to the guidelines, in April 1999 the Department requested each local authority in the greater Dublin area to ensure that its development plan was aligned with the strategy set out in the strategic planning guidelines. A further letter of 14 August 2000 also asked local authorities to advise the Department as to progress to date in this regard. The Planning and Development Act, 2000, the relevant provisions of which commenced on 1 January 2001, now require planning authorities to have regard to the guidelines when making and adopting a development plan.
In accordance with its role as statutory consultee for development plans, the Department examined draft development plans which were prepared in 2000 by Kildare, Meath and Wicklow county councils and wrote to each of those councils between December 2000 and January 2001 raising a number of issues of concern in relation to compliance with the strategic planning guidelines. The development plans for Meath and Wicklow have been adopted.
The future arrangements for strategic land use planning in the greater Dublin area are being considered in the context of legislation being prepared on the institutional arrangements for land use and transport in the area. In the consultation paper issued jointly in March 2001 by the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Department of Public Enterprise, it was proposed that a new Dublin strategic land use and transportation policy should, inter alia, take over responsibility for the review and updating of the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, overseeing the implementation of the guidelines to ensure that the land use planning policies and individual planning decisions of local authorities are consistent with them. The intention in assigning responsibility for strategic  land use planning to the proposed strategic land use and transport body is to ensure that there is an effective and integrated strategic planning framework for land use and transport in place which is regularly reviewed and updated by that body. The proposed body has the power to ensure that the strategic planning framework is complied with at local level.
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