“Fundamentally undemocratic” is how Carrigtwohill Councillor Anthony Barry described the decision of the Office of Planning Regulator (OPR) to write to the Minister of Housing asking him to intervene in the council voted variation to the County Development Plan.
The OPR was established in 2019 to ensure good planning across the country, and this is the first time it has urged the Minister of State for Housing, Damien English, to intervene to overturn a decision of a local council.
Minister English has two weeks from Friday, February 21, to consider the recommendation of the planning regulator and to issue a draft direction, or, if he disagrees with the recommendation, publish a statement outlining his reasons.
If the minister sides with the planning regulator, he will seek a response from the local authority, before making a ruling, which could potentially quash plans for the retail outlet centre. If he goes against the regulator, he will have to explain his decision to the Oireachtas.
Speaking to The Echo, the Fine Gael Councillor said he thought it was “fundamentally undemocratic to have an office in Dublin undermining an elected councillors decision.
“We have a robust, transparent planning process and for the OPR to come in at this stage, it undermines the whole thing.” Mr Barry said that the reason given by the OPR, that the variation was “premature” was not valid.
“The idea of waiting for a joint retail strategy with the city, I would be dubious as to what kind of one we are likely to get.” The local councillor said that he felt a Retail Outlet Village would be of great benefit to both city and county.
“I think the project will be beneficial to the city and county, I would imagine it would bring hotel beds to the city and enhance the tourism aspect of East Cork while also providing 600+ jobs.” Mr Barry said he did not think the project would affect the neighbouring towns and villages.
“I don’t think the Midleton and Youghal shops sell Gucci and Prada bags, it is a different type of offering.
“If you want the latest Prada bag, you will go straight into Brown Thomas and buy it, Retail Outlet Villages offer discontinued or last year’s offering.” The Carrigtwohill councillor said he was aware that there were improvements needed locally before a retail outlet village could be built but said this was achievable.
“I understand infrastructure needs to be upgraded, but that is what the planning process is for, I don’t think anyone should be allowed to step in.
“I mean obviously, if it was something ridiculous like a casino up the country I would understand but there is a developer interested in investing €100m in this project, they are there to make money, they obviously feel it is a viable option, we would be mad not to look at it.”