Sunday, March 25, 2007
Slane does St Pat’s Day Proud
Kick off was for 3pm, so I headed out there at about ten to three and managed to get parking just outside Ledwidge Hall. I wandered down to the junction and found a spot right in the middle of the road. It wasn’t long before the local Sergeant , Mick Kelly, came into view. His hands were full with organising the traffic diversions through the village. Slane is on the N2 Dublin to Derry road (awaiting a bypass!) and there was quite a bit of traffic to direct. Although he was busy we managed to grab a few words. He used to work with my dad in Drogheda Garda Station so I know Mick for a while.
The parade kicked off on time and the floats were representative of the businesses and organisation in the area, including accordion bands, crèches and local hostelries. The weather didn’t seem to affect people’s humour. All in all, I’d say it was a lovely way to spend a few hours. The attendance seemed to be unaffected by the rugby match in Rome: people just related the scores to each other as they came in.
This week I went calling to the Northlands estate on the Eastham Road to see how residents were getting along. The estate was built by two separate builders. One part has more or less been finished, with roadways complete and top course of tarmac down. However, the other part is still waiting for work to be completed. In addition, a stream runs through the estate. I’ve been asked to find out if the boundary fencing is adequate in terms of safety.
This stream runs through Northlands Estate, Bettystown
I’ll be getting on to the Enforcement section of the council to see if everything has been built in accordance with the Conditions of Planning.
My last meeting of the week was in Brabazon Estate. A planning application has been lodged for another 146 units beside this estate and residents are worried about the impact this will have on their lives.
I met with about 40 residents in the open air at 6pm on Saturday evening. We spent an hour going through the issues and agreed on a way forward. When we broke up at seven it was still light. With the clocks about to change back it gave me a real feeling that summer is just around the corner.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Back to school...
After much comment and advice from members of the public the Council engineers have agreed to withdraw their proposal to put boulders on the beach at Bettystown.
I have no doubt that the Council published the proposals for the beach in good faith. From talking to the engineers involved it’s clear that they had the beach interest of the beach at heart and wanted the best future for the area.
But on this occasion the proposal they put forward were not going to work. The feedback I received made it obvious to me that the solutions proposed are unacceptable. As one constituent said, “it’s using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
At this week’s Slane area meeting the Councillors unanimously voted to withdraw the proposals for boulders. I made a contribution along the lines that:
(a) we’ve all learned a lot about the blue flag process and the situation on the beach at the moment
(b) we now have a Consultative committee involving the whole community up and running. They KNOW about the issues facing the beach – let’s listen to their advice
(c) the whole proposal has raised awareness in the community about the need to do something, and now we have the chance to go and prepare more realistic, workable proposals for next year.
For me, its been a real learning experience. I’ve used the beach since I was a boy. I’ve swam, run, played football and I’ve even rode a horse on the beach. However I don’t have an exclusivity of views on the issue of how best to manage it and for me the last six months have been an education in beach management and coastal protection.
I’m still all ears to hear more on this. Not just about the Blue Flag issue. I’m just as worried about Coastal Erosion. Just take a trip down to the Laytown Pitch & Putt Club and see what’s going on. I’m going to raise this at next month’s Area meeting.
The Irish National Teacher’s Organisation (INTO) brought their campaign to reduce class sizes to Meath this week. I attended a meeting in the Ardboyne Hotel, Navan, where about 200 teachers and politicians debated the issue. It was a lively discussion and I was left in doubt about the scale of the problem in Meath.
Ø In Slane village there are two classrooms of 36 pupils
Ø In Bettystown / Laytown half of the classes have 29 students or more
Ø In Ashbourne two thirds of the classes have 29 students or more.
….. and commitments on this issues were given years ago…….. and we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world……and the European average is 20 students per class…
The news that the land at Laytown has not yet been acquired was shocking. I've been told to stay out of this, but exactly when does a Minister start taking responsibility for their inactions?
I went back to school myself this week. Minister Mary Wallace, Deputy Shane McEntee and I were asked to attend a mock election in Ashbourne Community School. Each of us gave 5 minute election addresses to one of the classes and then we were asked a series of questions ranging from road safety, politicians’ working hours, climate change and the like.
Myself, Minister Wallace and Deputy Mcentee on the Meath East hustings
It was great fun and at the end of the session a mock ballot sheet was filled out by each student to see which of our would win the one seat up for grabs. On this occasion I was elected. Hopefully I’ll be as fortunate in May!
I went to Dunboyne during the week for a meeting with the local school, Gardai and community leaders to talk about the increase in the drug problem in the village.
Almost all of the resident associations in the village were represented at the meeting, and many spoke about how they felt the issues could be better addressed by more community policing and by a higher presence of Gardai.
Superintendent Charlie Devine and Sergeant Alan Dowling provided an insight in the whole issues of policing in the village. It all comes back to having sufficient Gardai available. Dunboyne, like the rest of Meath, has grown hugely over the last ten years. Our Gardai compliment has not. We need a higher compliment now and I’ll continue to push for this.
Also at the meeting were Councillor Noel Leonard, Councillor Charlie Brooks and Fine Gael’s new candidate from Ratoath, Regina Doherty. Since first meeting Regina in February I’ve now bumped into her at three different meeting in a month. Luckily she seems very pleasant, because I imagine I’ll be seeing a lot more of her over the next eight weeks!
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Update on the Bryanstown Lands Local Area Plan
Before the meeting the promoter of the development Mr Bill Doyle contacted me. He told me that Fine Gael Councillor Anne-Dillon Gallagher would put a motion on the agenda.
At this morning’s meeting Councillor Dillon Gallagher tabled the motion, the wording of which was as follows:
“That the Council prepares as a matter of urgency the Local Area Plan for the Drogheda Environs”
Each of the five East Meath Councillors spoke in favour of the motion. So too did the Head of Planning from Meath County Council Mr Kevin Stewart.
As a result the motion was passed.
Mr Stewart says that he will now prepare a brief for the consultants to carry out the local area plan. He expects this to be ready by Easter.
All of the Councillors wholeheartedly spoke in favour of the Drogheda United stadium. The Motion calls for urgency in preparing the Local Area Plan, and Mr Stewart has committed to preparing the Local Area Plan as soon as possible, whilst of course staying within the timescales laid down by the law.
The Local Area Plan will look at the stadium proposal and the 5,000 homes that are also being proposed, and will seek to address what community facilities (schools, medical centre, shops, playgrounds etc.) are needed for what would be a housing development of twice the size of Trim or almost the size of Balbriggan.
Whilst this Local Area Plan is being prepared there is nothing to stop the promoter putting in an application for the proposed stadium. At the moment no application for a stadium has been made, but if one is made then it will have my support, and I’d be fairly sure it would get the support of the other Councillors as well.
Leave a comment or question if you like!
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Accessibility Audits for Meath
The No incineration Alliance had lined up a number of witnesses to speak against the proposal. I was asked to speak on the potential impact on the aquifer under the site. An aquifer is a large pool of water and the one under Duleek is one of the biggest in the area.
I spoke for about 20 minutes on the subject and reminded the Inspector that it was two years to the very day since I gave evidence against the proposal to grant an EPA licence to the plant. As Pat O Brien said “Every day without the plant is another good day”
I was followed by Councillor Ged Nash of Louth and by Deputy Trevor Sargent of the Green Party from Dublin North.
It’s expected that the Inspector will take about four months before she comes to a decision on this.
At the County council meeting on Monday I got a response to the question I had raised about how Meath are progressing the implementation of the Barcelona Declaration. The Declaration seeks to improve the rights of the disabled throughout Europe. Meath County Manager Tom Dowling provided me with a detailed report of how the Council is trying to improve the current situation.
Of particular interest to me was his proposal to spend money doing an accessibility audit of our towns and villages. These audits will look at things such as open spaces, public buildings and the general streetscape to assess what improvements are needed to make day-to-day life easier for disabled people.
The Manager will carry out accessibility audits on fie towns initially. In tandem with this he is training up staff to carry out audits on the other towns and villages. Once the audits are complete a programme of improvement measures will be drawn up for each town and village. I’ll be keeping an eye on these audits to make sure that they don’t slip of the radar screens.
On Friday Labour Party Leader Pat Rabbitte came down to Meath for a visit. We met in Ashbourne and then took a trip to Cushenstown to my old school. We then travelled over to Donacarney, where we got a tour of the crèche in Castle Glen. The children had been told that a Mr Rabbitte was coming and it seems to lead to a bit of confusion. The crèche was state-of-the-art, very clean and well laid out. We spoke to the staff about the problems they had encountered with red-tape when it came to the planning and development of the building. The whole process for crèche provision is certainly something that needs to be looked at.
At 5, the twins just realised that Pat's pledge for free GP cards for under 5's was of no use to them
Pat then launched my new website. It’s been a few weeks in the planning and it seeks to incorporate my blog into the main body of my website. At the “Blogging the Election” conference in the autumn the blogging grand-master Slugger O'Toole made the point that blogs and websites should really be one and the same thing. That’s what we’ve tried to do in the re-design.
Pat R and myself do a "tour"
We went down to Scotch Hall to meet the Drogheda Independent and Cllr Ged Nash and after a bun and a coffee I saw Pat off. I went home to change and headed up to Dalymount Park for the first match of the new season.
Not the best of matches, but a sizeable contingent of away supporters made the trip up to Phibsboro.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Many hands make Lights work!
Now we have to continue the pressure on the ESB to complete the public lighting on the other estates in East Meath that are still waiting for lighting.
Although the lights are on, there are still a number of outstanding issues that need to be addressed in relation to Race Hill. The final surfacing works need to go down and the temporary treatment plant (which I am told should have been removed months ago) needs to be taken away. I will continue to press for this to be done.
This plant needs to be taken away before the green area can be finished
Next door at Race Hill Lodge work is also needed. There are NO public lights and I’ve been told that there are issues in relation to the quality of the earthworks put into the open space. Although the builder seems to have disappeared from the estate, he appears to be still using it as a place to park his equipment.
Anyone want to buy an abandoned digger?
I’ll be following this up with the Council over the next few weeks.
I’m a member of Meath VEC and we held a meeting in the Bettystown Court Hotel on Thursday night to announce that the new 1,000 pupil secondary school would open on a temporary basis if there are sufficient numbers. Peter Kierans, the CEO of Meath VEC, gave a fine speech on the merits of the school and how it would work, both in the first instance as a temporary school and then how after about 3 years it would move into the permanent building. Peter was joined by the principals of VEC schools in Ratoath, Nobber, Dunboyne and Dunshaughlin.
I must say it was an impressive presentation that they all put together. To get a temporary school off the ground they need at least 50 students (this allows them to have a critical mass in terms of classes offered and hours for teachers). As there were over 150 parents present I’d be hopeful that enough sign up to make a temporary school a reality. Anyone who wants to enrol their child can call my advice centre on 041 988 6307 or call www.meathvec.ie on 046 902 1447.
Friday saw the final meeting on Meath’s new County Development Plan. It had been out for comment from members of the public for the previous six weeks. In all a total of 70 comments were made. Guess what, the vast majority were from developers, who were complaining about the proposed caps on the number of houses in Meath over the next 6 years.
The Planners had gone away since the last meeting and reviewed the proposed “caps”. The caps are their way of trying to limit the amount of residential land developed over the 6 year life of the plan. There’s sufficient land zoned in Meath to build 300,000 houses, whilst regional Planning Guidelines say that a figure of around about 200,000 is more acceptable. Instead of de-zoning land the Planners decided to introduce caps.
They proposed a few changes to the caps since the last meeting. The main one in East Meath was the proposal to increase the cap in the Bettystown / Laytown / Mornington area. This was in recognition of the fact that they had already approved more housing than the cap allowed for. As result of that, the delivery of the primary school site, the secondary school site and the playing fields in Laytown / Bettystown could be jeopardised. So, they proposed to increase the cap here. This brought the total number of houses to 207,000 (existing and new).
One key vote that was taken was to increase the cap from the 207,000 population figures suggested by the planners to 210,000 suggested by one of the Councillors. The Councillors who voted in favour of this wanted the land reserved for Strategic Areas in the County. I asked the planner for clairification of where this would be and my understanding is that it will be for strategic centres such as Navan and Ashbourne.
The planners were against this proposal. So was I. I can’t see the need for an increase. I felt that the arguments for it were unclear and unreasoned. It was put to a vote and my side lost 14 – 6.
We then came to the final vote of the evening, which was whether or not to adopt the plan. On an overall basis I was happy to do this. There are certainly things in the plan I don’t like, but I am happy that my proposal to protect Open Spaces is adopted, that my proposals on walking routes, cycling routes, and environmental policies are now part of the Plan. I also welcome the fact that Meath is introducing a more managed programmed of housing land releases, so that existing communities get the social facilities they need before being swamped with more housing.
We adopted the County Development Plan at 9pm, 7 hours after the start of the meeting.
It was another lesson in the ways of life of a politician. I had arranged dinner with an old friend in Dublin for 8:30pm. I called her in the morning to warn her that I might be late. By 4pm I thought that we would be finished in time. By six I called her again to say that things were still looking good. By seven pm things had changed. I called her to cancel. Not a nice thing to do so late in the day. I called her again at 9pm, just to say that I could go up for a later dinner, but at that stage she was eating a take-away Chinese. So, we didn’t get to meet.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens a lot and as one of my Councillor Colleagues reminded me when I mentioned my dinner engagement “You must always put the interests of the public before your personal life.” You’d never guess the name of the Councillor who came up with that line!
A video taken on Dollymount Strand in relation to Beach Bollards
On Saturday evening I attended the Irish Blog awards in Dublin. I was up for an award but lost out to www.irishelection.com. Afterwards I congratulated Cian from the site. I’ve met him before at the “Blogging the Election” Conference and I have to say that they really deserved the win for the work they have put into their site over the last while.
I was in winning company, though. REDMUM, who actually introduced me to blogging (she walked me through the wonderful world of www.blogger.com , www.flickr.com, youtube.com and how to edit videos) won an award for her blog.
Redmum with her award.
All in all, a great night was had!