Cork County Councillors have expressed outrage at a draft direction issued by the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien this month, which could force the council to scrap plans for a Kildare-village style outlet centre in East Cork.
This is not the first time a Minister has used their powers under the Planning Act 2000 to try direct against the retail centre development near Carrigtwohill, which has firm “for” and “against” camps — concerns have been raised about the impact the car-dependent development will have on the environment and traffic congestion, while others see the retail centre as a boost for the economy and tourism.
In 2020, then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Damien English, ordered Cork County Council drop its plans for the centre. The Council won a High Court battle against the Minister, where the judge ruled he did not have jurisdiction to impose his views over those of elected local representatives, and the direction was quashed.
They were also successful in a subsequent judicial review case, where the High Court overruled a Minister’s direction compelling Cork County and City Councils to co-ordinate their development plans regarding retail outlet centres.
Now Cork County Council have received notice of a draft direction from the Minister for Housing, which orders the council to drop the outlet from its Development Plan for 2022-2028, and develop a joint retail plan with Cork City Council by next year.
The draft direction says the current plans for the centre “are not informed or underpinned by appropriate strategic assessment and analysis”, and fail to follow guidelines regarding retail planning.
Councillors expressed anger with the direction, calling it a “disgraceful” undermining of local democracy that “flies in the face” of the High Court’s decision.
Mayor Gillian Coughlan called the direction “despicable”, saying it indicates a “complete lack of trust” in Cork County Council, and is an attempt to erode its legitimacy.
A special meeting of Cork County Council is to be called next week to discuss the issue, after which the council will write to the Minister for Housing to express its “displeasure”.
Public consultation on the draft direction will open for two weeks this Friday, June 17. Then, Cork County Council have four weeks to prepare a report in response.
Following that, the Office of the Planning Regulator has three weeks to advise the Minister on the Council’s response, and the Minister will issue their direction, including any amendments.