Friday, June 02, 2006
Another 10 hour meeting at County Hall....
Wednesday saw the debate on the County Development Plan Strategic Policy document. By law, the Councillors had to vote on the Strategic Policies by the start of June, otherwise the Manager’s views would be deemed to be adopted. We agreed to go through each of the 70 motions for as long as was necessary.
The meeting kicked off late at ten thirty. Progress was slow and by lunchtime we had only got through about ten motions. One motion took an hour alone. Another motion of particular interest to me was the one to rezone Cushenstown as a graig.
A graig is a small centre where limited additional housing is permitted, in order to relieve housing pressure on surrounding rural development areas. Cushenstown currently consists of a small gathering of about 15 houses and a country school, just off the Dublin to Derry road. Past Taoiseach Charles J Haughey was a pupil in the school in the 1930s.
I am also a past pupil of the local school so I know how important it is to keep school numbers up, and this can be achieved by permitting more housing around the school. But I felt that we should listen to the planners advice, which is to carry out some initial analysis of this proposal and decide on whether to implement on the basis of that analysis. Certainly that would give the planers time to consider the merits of the proposal, and it would also give me time to talk to local residents and get their views. As a result, I abstained on the motion.
The proposal was put forward by Councillor James Mangan and despite the advice of the planners not to zone it as a graig, the motion was passed by the majority of the councillors present.
The day passed quickly. One of the motions was our Reserved Housing policy which has got caught up in some uninformed sensationalism in the media. The policy is trying to ensure that villagers who have grown up in the area are not displaced. It also helps to protect them from competing with speculators who buy two or three houses for investment, in the process often forcing up prices.
Councillors agreed that 25% of new houses built in small towns and villages should be reserved for local first-time buyers instead of the 50% policy previously proposed. The 25% rule will apply only to smaller population centres in Meath, such as Donore, Donacarney, Duleek and Slane. The restriction will mean that people who have lived within 10km of the development for at least 5 consecutive years of their lives will have 25% of housing in that development reserved for them. Also, people who work in the area will be able to buy from this reserved pool of housing, regardless of how long they have lived in the area.
There’s no limitation on buying houses in larger towns like Ashbourne, Navan, nor will there be limitations in Dunshaughlin, Bettystown or Laytown.
One annoying part of the day was the blatant lobbying of councillors by a certain group of developers. Councillor Z had a motion on the order paper, seeking to get approval for a local plan for the developer’s land. When I came in on the morning I had noticed a very glossy brochure on my desk, selling the merits of the proposal; there was nothing on the document to identify who had produced it.
I went out for a walk at lunchtime to get some air and I was immediately jumped on by the developers, who wanted to explain their proposals to me. Developer A came up to me and stood within 6 inches of my face:
“We’d like to sit down with you and explain why you should support our motion” he said.
“Was that your document on my desk this morning?” I asked.
“Yes it was”
“Have you spoken to the planners about your proposal”
“Yes we have.”
“Well then I have all the information I need. I’ll read your document and I’ll listen to what the planners have to say, and I’ll make my mind up then” I said.
“Yeah, but the planners don’t always get it right” he retorted. “This could bring thousands of jobs to Meath!”
“Thanks, I’ll have a think” I said, walking away from him.
I was a bit annoyed with him. He could have sent me some information in the post, or he could have phoned me months ago to ask for a meeting, but to try to press-gang me into supporting him got my back up.
When I returned I listened to the planner. Her view was that if there were thousands of jobs to be had then the developer should just make a normal planning application; there was no need for this motion. The majority of the members were in agreement with her. Councillor Z, who had proposed the motion, kept glancing over to the developers in the public box, to gauge their views. In the end he withdrew the motion. One look at the developers as they walked out suggested that they were less than happy with the end result.
After the meeting I drove straight to Dunshaughlin, where the local branch meeting was in full swing. We discussed issues such as the feedback from the local bus survey and village parking. It appears that people often have to walk in the road to get round cars parked on footpaths and this is a handicap especially for parents wheeling prams and also for elderly people.
I undertook to write to the local Gardai asking them to make periodic checks and make an example of some of the worst offenders.
At the invite of the Drogheda ABACAS school I attended the launch of the round Ireland Cycle in aid of Irish Autism. The cyclists are from a GAA Club in Carlow and are cycling to every county group in Ireland over an 11 day period. They set off from Drogheda on their way to Parc Tailteann in Navan. By the end of the day they will be in Roscommon, 90 miles away!
I went across to Navan after the launch and stood at the junction of Trimgate Street and Cannon Row, collecting money from passing motorists. I was delighted by the overwhelming generousity of Navan people. I reckon I must have collected five hundred euro in a matter of a few hours.
On Friday morning I went to the launch of the Green flag at Bellewstown School.
The Green Flag is awarded to schools who successfully complete the Green-Schools programme. Green-Schools offers a well-defined, controllable way to take environmental issues from the curriculum and apply them to the day to day running of a school.
The Flag was raised overlooking Bellewstown Hill on a fabulously sunny day. There are few places as beautiful when the weather is fine! Afterwards I joined some local parents, teachers and school children for a picnic in the school grounds.
The disappointment at the Drogs falling at the first hurdle in the defence of the FAI Cup will take a while to recover from, but at least the team recovered enough to beat the Bohs 1-0 on a glorious Friday evening at United Park. Half way through the first half Fabio went down. From where I was standing he looked to be a good two yards outside the box, but the referee blew and gave us a penalty.
The keeper guessed correctly and thwarted Fabio’s effort.
He immediately made up for it with a well taken goal which was ultimately all that divided the teams. The win keeps the Drogs at the top of the league. On the way home I nearly got caught up in a mini-riot. Some local “fans” - gurriers were throwing rocks at the Gardai outside the Lourdes Hospital. The Gardai seemed to be coping well, so I moved on out of there.