Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Incineration – The fight goes on
I got a phone call mid-morning from some of the anti-incineration alliance team to alert me to the news. Then LMFM called me to ask for confirmation (the council was stalling them for some reason). I confirmed the situation with them and did a short piece for the lunchtime news to say that both myself and Cllr Nash from Louth would continue with our objection to the plant by bringing a case to An Bord Pleanala.
Some may say that we are fighting a losing battle. I don’t accept that. My experience on planning maters stretching back over two decades is that things can change and nothing is final until a plant is up and running. It was interesting to hear John Ahern of Indaver on the evening news stating that there may be problems with economic viability of the plant due to the excessive amount of landfill in the country.
At some stage it may become economically disadvantageous for them to continue with their proposal, and let’s face it, if they aren’t going to make a profit from the plant, they won’t build it. So, the fight goes on.
The East Meath Area has a new Area Engineer, Adrian Hobbs, who has transferred across from the Dunshaughlin Electoral Area. I met with him for an introductory session and had a chat about the many challenges facing the area. What with all of the changes and growth in the area Adrian has his work cut out for him.
I caught up with the Cathaoirleach of the Council, Jimmy Cudden to discuss the situation in relation to the proposed remedial works at Alverno Heights, Laytown. Jimmy brought me up to speed with the situation: the local residents are steadfast in their opposition to additional houses on the open space. I spoke to the Chairman of the Residents Association, John Brodigan and confirmed that I will support them in their efforts to get the remedial works without the extra houses.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Temporary School at The Narroways, Bettystown
The main runners as solutions at the moment are (i) staggering the opening hours of the existing school and (ii) making representations to the planners to allow further prefabs on the site of the existing school.
The possibility is that neither of these solution may work, for various reasons, or may be felt to be sub-optimal by the parents and the Board of Management.
I have been contacted by many people who have suggested various options for a temporary site (including Mosney, the Laytown race field etc.). Many of these sites would work fine but all may be time-consuming because they are (a) owned by others and (b) would have to go through the normal planning process.
However, there is one site where thing are a lot clearer; that's the council owned land at The Narroways, Bettystown. This 3 acre site is currently the subject of a Part 8 application for social housing. Part of the site is also allocated to a community centre / creche type facility.
[A Part 8 application is similar to a normal planning application, but it's what the council does if it want to propose something itself. A key difference is the fact that the Councillors approve the proposal, not the planners.]
What I am willing to do, if the Board of Management think it is a useful idea, is to push for part of this council-owned land be used as a site for the prefabs on a temporary basis.
To help achieve this I have tabled a Notice of Motion for the next available meeting of the local Councillors. The Notice of Motion says the following:
"That the County Manager urgently prepares a Part 8 application for the erection of prefabricated classrooms at the Council owned land on The Narroways, Bettystown. These prefabricated classrooms would be for the use of the local school until the permanent school site becomes available."
The process would be that, assuming that the majority of the Councillors agree to this, the County Manager would then prepare an application for the erection of prefabs at The Narroways as well as a temporary access point to the site. The Planners would obviously liaise with the Board of Management to make sure the design contained all of their needs. Once this application is prepared the proposal would go on public display for around 5 weeks and then would come back to the councillors for final approval.
There are a few hurdles to be overcome if we progress this idea...... the planners may not like the idea, because of various issues. As well as this there would need to be a bit of work done to allow access for cars into the site. However, with the full committment of the councillors and the planners a temporary site for the school could be up and running in a short number of months (perhaps before Christmas).
There would be some impact on the number of social houses that could be provided on the rest of the site, but in the common good it may be worth delaying some of these in order to educate the children of the area.
Whilst the site is by no means as ideal as the site beside the parochial hall, it would mean that we wouldn't have to go through the same heartache next year. Also, it would keep the temporary school in the parish and would be very convenient for many families who are sending children to the school (it's right beside Sevitt Hall, Woodside, The Maples and many other growing estates).
The point about this proposal is that it is within the power of the local councillors, acting together in a non-partisan way, to deliver a temporary school for the good of the community.
I know that the Board of Management is meeting in a few days to discuss the options available. If this option is not as good as another one that comes up, then I will withdraw this Notice of Motion. But if they would like us to progress this option as a fall-back then I am very happy to push for it.
Let me know!
Monday, August 07, 2006
What's the issue here?
The current schools in Laytown are at capacity, with virtually no further room for expansion. A site for a new school has been identified and zoned for a school premises, but the site has not yet been released by the landowners. From September, there are scores of children looking for school places in the area and it is not clear where they are going to get places.
Background to the issue.....
The Laytown and Bettystown area has grown significantly over the last 15 years. At the time of the drafting of the last local area plan, in 2000, it was recognised that a new school would be needed to cater for the additional families and young children coming into the area. As a result, a site was identified and the then councillors voted to zone a site for a school. This site is beside the existing parochial hall in Laytown.
Now it's one thing to zone a site. That just means that the land has been earmarked for school premises, rather than, say housing. In order for the school to become a reality the owners would have to agree and either sell or transfer ownership of the land to the school authorities. However, since then the owners of the land decided neither to sell nor transfer the land. As a result, when the plan came up for review in 2005, five years later, the planners decided to offer a carrot to the owners of the site: transfer the proposed school site and the council will rezone 25 acres of their land alongside the site for additional
I was elected in 2004 and so I was keenly involved in trying to make the school site a reality. I was annoyed and appalled that the planning system in Ireland meant that in effect we had to zone land for another 300 houses just to get a school site released, but that is the law and regime we are currently operating under and until there is a change in national legislation that's what we have to work with. I went along with the decision to rezone 25 acres, hoping that this would be sufficient for the owners to release the school site.
The owners had put in a submission of their own for consideration (as did many others). They wanted 35 acres zoned residential, not 25. Apologies if I have made a mistake with these numbers - I am away from my desk so I can't be sure of the exact number, but basically they wanted more land zoned for houses than the planners and the local councillors felt was necessary.
The plan was adopted in November of 2005.
The adopted plan can be seen at:
As the plan states: NOT ONE HOUSE CAN BE BUILT UNTIL THE SCHOOL SITE IS TRANSFERRED.
Since then there were a number of meetings and conversations between the planners, the councillors and the owners of the land, in an effort to reach a satisfactory solution for all, but with the ultimate goal of getting the site for the school. Earlier this year the owners decided to sell off the site. That is their constitutional and democratic right and there's nothing the council can do about it.
The site was put up for auction in the early summer. It was sold for a price rumoured to be several million euro.
A key thing to remember is that the zoning still applies to this land. So, too does the stipulation that not one house can be built until the school site is transferred.
The new owner seems to be interested in building houses as soon as possible. He held a meeting with the Council Planners to talk about this about a month ago. It was at this meeting that the new owner and the council realised that part of the land zoned for the school had been retained by the original owner. The council were a bit bemused, to say the least. Their position at the meeting was that the new owner was unable to deliver the school site in its entirety since a significant piece of the land jigsaw necessary for the school was missing and therefore the situation was at an impasse.
Since the meeting I have spoken to both the old and new landowners. From what they have told me I would be hopeful that an agreement can be reached which will enable the school land to be released to the school authorities.
I cannot predict when this will happen, as the timing is outside my control. What I have said is that I am happy to liaise and work with all parties to ensure this happens sooner rather than later. I have also said that if an agreement cannot be reached within a reasonable period of time then we will have to look at options such as a Compulsory Purchase Order of the proposed site and/or Dezoning. Neither option is likely to be fast or cheap, but a community and its children cannot be the used as pawns in a long running saga. There is a general election next year and laws can be changed and moulded for the benefit of the community at large. Over the coming months I intend to raise this issue with my party's TDs in Dail Eireann, asking them for advice on how we could prepare legislation on how to release much needed land for community facilities. At any rate, I hope the specific issue of Laytown school site will be sorted out way before them.
In the meantime, the existing school authorities have lodged an application for temporary classrooms and I understand that the planners have asked for further information on this application. The issue will be up to the planners (not the Councillors) and they will make their decision imminently.
In response to queries from some parents, I have been quoted as saying that some, (not all!) parents may wish to send their children to schools outside the immediate Laytown area. For clarification, I am not calling for busloads of children to be sent out of Laytown in the morning, on buses that should have been scrapped long ago. I am saying that some parents may wish to send their child to one of the rural schools within a ten minute drive of Laytown. There are a number of rural schools which may have space for a few extra children. Interested parents may wish to drive their children themselves or car pool. Whilst this may not suit everyone, and certainly is not a sustainable, long-term solution, it might suit some parents in the short term. It is just a suggestion meant to be of help; it's not a solution in itself.
So how do we get out of this situation?
There is a possibility that planning permission is given for additional classrooms, which will provide a temporary solution to the school site problem. However my efforts will be focused on keeping the pressure on to get the release of the school site.
In this posting I am hoping that I have given people sufficient information to enable them to take a considered view of the situation. I don't want to engage in a futile blame game, but as a public representative, I have and all others have a duty to address the source of such problems and highlight where responsibility for this scenario lies.
In large part it lies at the feet of this Government for presiding over and sustaining a planning system which puts the interests of the few ahead of the many.
We are supposed to live in a republic where citizens are meant to be equal under the law. One of the central tenets of de Valera's constitution, subsequently enacted by the people of Ireland, was for all of our children to be given equal access to the educational system. It's not clear that this is happening in East Meath today.
In the short term, it's time for the landowners to complete the transfer of land, so that the school can be built. In the long term, it's time to change the law and system to put the interests of our nation's children ahead of other considerations.