Sunday, January 28, 2007


Walking Rights for Meath

Most of my this week was spent on the review of the County Development Plan. We met in Navan on Monday until 11pm, Tuesday until half eleven and then again on Thursday when we concluded at 9pm. In all, we debated 101 motions put forward by Councillors.

I had a fair few motions down. A lot of them dealt with issues such as walking rights or way, cycling routes and the like. Some of these were accepted; others were not. On my three key motions I was successful with two, but one motion fell.

One of my favourite pastimes in hill-walking, and I’ll go to the ends of the earth to enjoy this. Last year I went to New Zealand to do the Kepler Track and the year before I went climbing in Venezuela.

Hillwalking in Venezuela
In Venezuela, the Caribbean in the background

So, I was keen to get a motion in to try to open up County Meath to Hill Walkers. I got the following policy inserted into the County Plan:

That this Council will engage with external bodies to obtain internal and external resources to complete a list of existing public rights of way within two years of the adoption of this plan. This list will be accompanied by detailed maps showing actual routes and the appropriate signage will be put in place.”

I’ll be keeping an eye on the Manager to make sure he delivers on this commitment.

I also put a motion down in relation to open spaces in estates. I spoke about the fact that the residents of Inse Bay in Laytown felt cheated by the developer. They bought houses thinking they were getting open space in front of them and then the developer came back and got permission for more houses. I mentioned that this was a worry for other estates, including Brindley Park in Ashbourne and Ledwidge Hall in Slane.

In December I noticed that Dun Laoghaire / Rathdown has adopted a motion in their plan to stop this happening. I spoke to a few of our councillors there and basically, used the fine work they had done to put forward the following Motion:

"That this Council agrees to vary its County Development Plan to include the statement “no residential developments may take place in open green spaces that are the subject of a deed of dedication or identified in a planning application as open space

This was seconded by Councillor Jim Holloway (thanks very much Jim!) accepted by the members, and is now on its way to becoming official policy in County Meath. Unfortunately, it’s too late for Inse Bay residents, but hopefully it will stop such events occurring in the future.

I also put forward a Motion that the plan includes a bypass of Julianstown. I spoke in the Council about the need for a bypass as traffic levels are back where they were in the year 2000. Traffic is increasing all the time. I presented an analysis showing that the benefits of a bypass to our community would far out weigh the cost. I also told the chamber that in my view the M1 was not actually a bypass of Julianstown, since a lot of the traffic using Julianstown is coming from Drogheda and East Meath and not just avoiding the toll.

Other Councillors were supportive, but the County Manager felt that, whilst the initial analysis (done by the Julianstown Residents Association) looked very promising, more detailed analysis is needed to make the case more rigorous.

The Director of Infrastructure went further, saying that, since traffic through Julianstown exceeds 6 million vehicles per year, under the Environmental Noise Regulations Meath County Council must prepare Strategic Noise Level Maps by the end of June. To quote him, he said that:

Pending the outcome of the aforementioned Strategic Noise Map, which may conclude that the village requires significant traffic management measures including a bypass, it is considered premature to include a bypass objective at this stage.” He then stated that the development plan can be changed later to accommodate the bypass.

It was agreed that it would make more sense to wait for this study to be done. As a result, rather than putting it to a vote, it was clear from the Manager’s advice that the most effective way to progress the bypass is to:

(a) Wait for the noise study and the preparation of the Strategic Noise Maps; and
(b) Armed with the outcome from these, seek to amend the local area plan to include the Julianstown Bypass.

I will continue to push for this bypass in order to enhance the quality of life for those living in Julianstown and throughout our community.

The next stage is that the amendments to the plan (those motions which were passed by the Councillors) will be put on public display from Monday for a period of four weeks. Any comments will then be written up into a report by the Manager, which will be debated in early March by the Councillors. Once we finish that the debate the Plan will be adopted by the Council and then becomes our key policy document for the next six years.

So, if you have any questions or want to comment on the proposed amendment then you have four weeks to do it. The plan will be on public display in Duleek, Ashbourne and Dunshaughlin One Stop Shops and most of the libraries around the county.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


7-storey apartment block for Ashbourne?

The provision of dog litter bins in Meath, which I mentioned in last Sunday’s blog, attracted a lot of attention this week. It had been on the front page of the Meath Chronicle the previous week, and last Sunday I got a phone call from a national journalist asking me would I pose for a picture. I obliged and had my picture taken on the beach on Sunday afternoon.

After 7am on Monday morning I got a phone call from local station LMFM, wanting to know would I do a slot about the subject on Michael Reade’s Loose Talk show.

Which paper is it in?” I asked Maggie, the show’s producer.

It’s in ALL the papers” she replied. “The Mirror gives you a half a page, The Star has a picture of you and the County Manager, there’s a picture of you in the Independent and you’re in the Mail. Can you come on the show at quarter to ten?”

I jumped out of bed “Yeah, I’ll be there” I replied.

I pulled on some clothes and darted out to the shop, and flicked through the various papers. Sure enough, the majority of the papers had picked up on the story.

In the radio studio Michael quizzed me for about 15 minutes on the subject, and he also moved on to ask me a few questions about what will happen after the election in relation to potential coalition partners.

Directly after the show I had to go on Galway Bay FM, Belfast radio and Brenda Power on Newstalk. Later on I did interviews on Country FM, 106FM and Cork FM. I even got a few mentions from Gerry Ryan on his show.

I was talking to a few of my mates about it afterwards. It was funny. You can spend hours trying to generate some publicity about something like under-funding in Meath, or about hospital waiting lists, and get nowhere. Then a simple issue like trying to get a few extra litter bins blows up into a national story. That’s the media for you!

That afternoon I had my monthly VEC meeting in Navan. It was a very productive meeting and we agreed that our next meeting will be held in Ratoath. We are going to get a tour of the new school there (and hopefully a tour of the new Ratoath Community Centre, which Councillor Nick Killian has promised us).

I dropped along to Gormanston Railways station this week. I had been asked to check out the parking situation by a number of commuters. I was surprised to notice that there were over 40 cars parked along the road verge. The station car park is far too small. It is also in a complete state, with potholes everywhere and muck on the ground. I’d be pretty annoyed if I had just shined my shoes and had to wade through that at half seven on a winter’s morning. Shame on Iarnrod Eireann for doing nothing about it!

Gormonston Car-Park
Iarnrod Eireann could extend the car park at Gormanston by another 100 spaces

It’s clear that there is a huge amount of available ground for extra parking. It would only near some bitumen tar to be put down. Sure there’s also a related issue of the narrow laneway, but I’d say that with a small bit of effort the car park could be brought up to 21st Century conditions. Right now it’s like something out of the 1930s!

I was also contacted by residents of Betaghstown Cross in relation to the amount of muck being generated by builders’ lorries using the local roads. I passed their concerns on to the local engineer and enforcement officers. Builders’ lorries are mean to have their wheels washed before they exit the construction sites and join public roadways.

Betaghstown Cross
Council should force East Meath's builders to clean their vehicles

This month’s Slane Area meeting took place on Wednesday. We had presentations in relation to the Community Grants Scheme and how to fund the Sonairte re-development at Laytown.

I brought up the issue of road conditions and signage problems at Ardcath, Clonalvy and the general area around Four Knocks. For anyone visiting the area, or even for local residents who have just moved into the area, it can be difficult to find one’s way around. Signage is wrong, non-existent or covered in vegetation. I also asked the Area Engineer to re-instate the street cleaning service for Ardcath. This whole part of East Meath often feels that Navan forgets it exists.

All the Councillors spoke about the need for a Julianstown bypass and how the road from Duleek to Julianstown should be re-aligned so that it comes out at the north of the village at the junction with the Laytown Road. After a lengthy debate the Area Manager agreed to consider putting a new roundabout in at this location in a few years.

We were then joined by another Council Official, who began her presentation in relation to new trees for Slane and Julianstown. She is proposing to plant 20 lime trees for Slane village, which seem should be wonderful, and also 20 horse-chestnut trees at the north of the village. When I saw the proposed location of the trees I got a shock:

We can’t put the trees there, that’s where we want our new roundabout to go!” I said, noticing that the horse-chestnuts were about to be planted at the preferred location of or the new roundabout.

What new roundabout?” she asked, noticeably puzzled all of a sudden.

The new roundabout we are trying to build to relieve traffic from Julianstown village” I responded. It wasn’t her fault. In fairness to her she had not heard the previous conversation about the potential roundabout with the Laytown road.

We can’t plant them and then just dig them up again in a few years. There’ll be uproar!” I said.

Another Councillor agreed “there’ll be eco-warriors and all sorts protestin!” he added.

Area Manager McDonnell stepped in. “Perhaps we should go back and talk again to Julianstown Residents Association about this” he suggested. For once we all agreed.

This weeks video is in relation to a 7-storey apartment block proposed for Ashbourne.

7-storey development adjoining 2-storey houses is excessive

Sunday, January 14, 2007


From Table Mountain to Table Six

It was back to work with a bang this week, after a really refreshing break in Cape Town. I travelled down on St Stephen’s Day and got back on Monday morning. A real advantage about Cape Town at this time of year is that the days are long and the nights are warm. It’s a long way from the cold boreens of Nobber, which is where I’ll be spending a lot of the next few months!

Apart from walking the laneways of North Meath, the rest of my time over the next three months will be taken up with the review of the County Development Plan. We review the Plan every five years and are currently in the review period. On Monday we met from 10am until lunchtime and we met again on Wednesday, when we went on until just before 11pm.

The Plan is made up of several chapters. The main area of interest is the chapter on “Settlement Strategy”. This sets out the Council’s policy on where they will allow further residential development between now and 2013. After reviewing advice from many quarters (including the Department of Environment, Regional Planning Guidelines etc.) the council is clear that only a very small amount of housing will be allowed over the lifetime of this new plan.

The Department has suggested that a way of restricting demand would be for the County Manger to de-zone some of the currently zoned land. However, the Manager’s view is that this might leave him open to compensation claims. Instead, he intends to introduce a system of demand management to restrict growth.

The scheme he is proposing is as follows:

For each town and village he has published a table of the amount of houses he expects to allow over the next 6 years. This Table is known as TABLE SIX and to date has been the most contentious part of the County Plan review.

Each of these towns and villages will have a further restriction applied in relation to “local need”. For example:

* In villages like Donore and Donacarney ALL new houses will be restricted for first-time buyers who have lived within 10km of the village for five consecutive years, or who have worked in the area.
* In areas like Bettystown and Laytown 50% of new houses will be restricted for first-time buyers who have lived within 10km of the area for five consecutive years, or who have worked in the area. The other 50% are open to anyone.
* In places like Ashbourne and Drogheda environs there will be no restriction for local need.

Of course, people from outside these areas will be able to buy second hand houses just like they can today. So, it’s trying to manage future growth through demand management techniques.

A few months ago I asked the Manager for legal advice on whether this was a defensible policy. On Monday he produce a legal opinion, basically saying that an even mores restrictive policy is in existence in Wicklow and it’s never been challenged in the courts. My worry, and I stated this to him at the meeting, is that just because it wasn’t challenged in Wicklow doesn’t mean it won’t be challenged in Meath. I am sure some landowners and developers will “hit the roof” when they see they plans. We can expect to be challenged on them so we need to make sure we that what we are suggestion is constitutionally defensible. I’d be interested to hear any views on this matter.

All friends here
Kermit and staff smile for the camera

We had hours and hours of arguments and counter-arguments about Table Six. Some Councillors are of the view that it's overly restrictive; they see that by adopting Table Six then this limits the amount of housing allowed in future years. That goes against the wishes of some Councillors, especially those who believe in unconstrained growth. I think there will be a few very late nights before we reach agreement on Table Six.

The next stage for the review is for Councillors to submit Motions to the Manager, seeking to have changes made to the plan to reflect and concerns they have. The closing date for these motions is next Tuesday. I will be submitting several and intend to argue for their inclusion at the next review meeting on Monday week.

Our monthly Council meeting this week went on longer than usual – we finished at 7:30pm. I had a motion down asking the County Manager to install bins for dog-litter across the County. The County Manager refused my request: he claims there’s no evidence to suggest that bins are needed. I know from my walks around every estate in the county that we do have a problem in some areas with dog litter. I’m suggesting that people should send him any evidence (NOT the physical samples, in this age a photo will be sufficient).