CORK county councillors are considering taking a legal advice against an intervention by the Office of the Planning Regulator in respect of five matters in the new county development plan, concerning Bantry, Fermoy and Carrigtwohill, it emerged at Monday’s meeting of the local authority.
Councillors expressed their shock and anger that the Minister for Local Government and Planning, Peter Burke TD, had written to Cork County Council Chief Executive Tim Lucey, overruling the recently adopted Cork County Development Plan 2022 – 2028.
Minister Burke stated: “the development plan has not been made in a manner consistent with and has failed to implement a recommendation of the Office of the Planning Regulator” (OPR).
The plan the Minister continued “fails to set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.” He added it “is not consistent with National Policy Objectives set out in the National Planning Framework,” and is “not consistent with regional development objectives.”
The Minister has instructed the Council to reinstate the “zoning objective of those lands subject to zoning” in relation to Bantry, so that certain lands revert to “agriculture”. The Council was instructed to “delete the amended residential densities on specific sites” pertaining to Carrigtwohill, to revert one site to “medium density”, while another site is to revert to “high density.”
Minister Burke directed that in relation to Fermoy’s ‘special policy area’ and the expansion of existing mart facilities and provision of an NCT centre, the Council should “reinstate the zoning status of the subject land to that of the Draft Plan” so that subject land reverts to unzoned.
The letter states that lands zoned for residential development are “in excess of that needed to meet the core strategy housing supply targets for Bantry” in the adopted plan.
The planning authority therefore failed “to get the balance between making sure enough land is zoned and avoiding the zoning of too much land” under the guidelines.
Furthermore, this zoning amendment is also inconsistent with a requirement that the Council demonstrate “how the zoning proposals in respect of lands zoned for residential and for a mixture of residential and other uses accords with national policy that development of land shall take place on a phased basis.”
It’s understood the Carrigtwohill matter relates to a 90-unit housing complex, while one of the Fermoy matters relates to land that had been zoned ‘industrial’ for a project on the outskirts of town, but may now have to be progressed in the centre of town where an industrial zoned site already exists.
Cork County Council previously won two High Court cases relating to its application of the planning guidelines.
Fermoy based Cllr Frank O’Flynn said they had spent four years and many hours late at night formulating the development plan, and they had to taken into account the needs of the people “on the ground” in Fermoy.
“I honestly believe we should go back and fight it, but is that going to take another judicial court case?” he asked.
Cllr Seamus McGrath said the previous legal action was in defence of the Council’s decision making powers in planning.
This represents, he said, an “undermining of our local decision making capacity as elected members.”
“This is not an issue that Cork alone should be fighting. This is an issue across the board. It’s a national issue, the undermining of local councillors’ decision-making powers.”
The “interference” of the planning regulator affects every County Council, added Cllr McGrath.
Councillor Sinéad Sheppard said it is “extremely frustrating” to be overruled by the OPR.
“It’s absolutely maddening for us to be sitting here and getting this directive back from government when we’re the ones on the ground listening to the community and knowing what they need.”
Mr Lucey urged caution around any legal action, saying the circumstances in this case are very different from those in previous actions.
Mr Lucey suggested setting up a special development committee to take advice on the letter and make an informed decision before “pushing the button” on any potential judicial review.
The OPR has been contacted byfor comment.