Dáil debates

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages


4:05 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

This is an important discussion, even on this Stage of the Bill. I offer my sympathies to the Minister of State who is attempting to solve a problem which is a lively issue in my constituency. I concur with much of what Deputy Naughten said. I will give a factual example to show how unworkable what has been proposed is. Drogheda is in County Louth at the moment but a significant part of the town of Drogheda is in County Meath. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, states the town of Drogheda has a population of 42,000, which makes it the largest town in the country. It is not too far behind Waterford, which has approximately 52,000 to 53,000 people. We do not have a council. We have a significant development in east Meath, which is important to the town and to everybody. In an attempt to deal with this issue, both Louth and Meath county councils produced an area development plan for the areas that we are talking about.

Notwithstanding that the professional plan had buy-in from both councils, the district council in Meath overturned that and the law was that the local council had priority. The plan, which was appropriate and proper for the area, agreed by both councils, was overruled, and a builder's charter came into force instead. Hundreds of houses were built. They did not have planning permission at the time. We also had fights over where a certain football ground might go. We had rezoning of land which was going to be zoned for housing in one plan and not in another plan. There were stories of land valued at potentially millions of euro coming and going, toing and froing - not by Deputy Breathnach. That was the cynical operation that was being done at the back of all this. Out of that came things like out of town shopping centres. We all know that out of town shopping centres have destroyed the urban fabric and heart of our towns. There were out of town shopping centres outside Drogheda, in County Meath, given permission because Meath then gets the rates income. All of that codology has gone on for years, and not just in Drogheda but everywhere else as well.

It is time to put a stop to a council taking a significant advantage of a large adjoining population and putting in items which give it an income but destroy the fabric of the other town. It is also time that we put an end to a developer who was granted extensive planning permission on a condition from An Bord Pleanála that first and foremost the road network and roundabouts to manage traffic would have to go in. As it happened, the houses were built with no damned roundabouts and people had to wait for years before they were put in place. That is another joke. Sewage was moved at night from a storage tank because the houses were occupied before proper planning permission was put in place. All that codology happened and continues to happen in counties Louth and Meath. People are arguing on both sides.

The Minister of State that there has to be a proper order and a hierarchy of plans. I agree with the hierarchy of having the county councils make the plans. There must be significant local input and it must be balanced but what the Minister of State was, and is still, trying to do is to balance that. The voice of the people in the case I am talking about was the last voice to be heard. The voice of the developers was heard and that is why we ended up with some of the disgraceful situations that people have to live with. Houses were built with no facilities, infrastructures or anything but the profit the builder made was in his back pocket. He then walked away and left houses, which in some cases he kindly built on flood plains. We know all about that around the country. We want proper, properly controlled planning, with the interests of the local people being paramount. Even though I am critical of parts of the councils' plans, they are generally excellent, and that is the appropriate place to draft them.

Whether one has a Meath or a Louth jersey, if one wants to go to a decent school in Drogheda or east Meath or to go to a shopping centre, one has a choice. Infrastructure, recreational facilities and amenities have to be properly planned. There is a demand in Drogheda for my town to be in control of its own destiny and to have its own council with full, proper powers. It is unacceptable to me and the citizens of my town that we have a population greater than the wonderful county of Longford, whom I wish well, and Leitrim. They have their infrastructure, their chief executive officers, planners, engineers and everything except the population that we have. We have absolutely nothing. That creates a significant political crisis in our area. I know Deputy Breathnach knows it well, fair dues to him. He should have been there this morning, though he can text me about that.

There is room for deep thought on this and significant collaboration among all of us for the best planning. We must put an end to cowboy plans and cowboys, and to councillors who do not act in the best interest of the public. We have evidence of that today from a Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, judgment.

We cannot and must not allow a coach and four to be driven through our planning system by people with pecuniary interests and no concern for future generations or planning. We must have no more of this codology anywhere in the country.


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