A Waterford architect has pointed to a ‘chicken and egg’ situation within rural planning guidelines which is causing applications for local housing schemes to be rejected.
David Merrigan, director of MDP+Partners Architects, said the problem is with water and wastewater infrastructure whereby “local authorities won’t provide planning unless the infrastructure is first upgraded but Irish Water won’t incur that expense prior to planning being assured”.
"That leaves small developers especially, faced with spending a fortune on a wastewater infrastructure while planning might still fail, for whatever reasons," he said.
The issue has seen Waterford Council refuse planning this year for two housing schemes, totalling 52 houses in Lemybrien near Dungarvan and in Ardmore.
Similarly in east Cork, planning was refused in Ballinacurra village for 176 homes.
Mr Merrigan assisted local applicants Michael, Paudie and Séamus Veale and their brother-in-law Denis Lillis in seeking planning for 16 houses on an eight-acre site purchased in Lemybrien in 2018.
The site’s previous owner had planning for 26 houses in 2006, extended in 2011, but work ceased in 2014 with nine foundations laid.
Irish Water supported the Veale’s development with “a written commitment to work with us after we had planning”, according to Denis’s wife Siobhán.
The Veales undertook lengthy pre-planning talks with Waterford Council, spending thousands of euros on meeting requirements with the appropriate reports.
Then the council refused planning, primarily because the site was “not serviced by an adequate water supply or wastewater network” and that “in the absence of a firm proposal to upgrade same” the development was “premature”.
The council also deemed the development contrary to the county development plan due to a zoning technicality that is understood to be no longer relevant.
“We are angry that the council never advised us about the water or wastewater issue," said Siobhán. “And then the council and Irish Water blamed each other."
Local Councillor Liam Brazil accused both authorities of “passing the buck”.
Irish Water confirmed that the treatment plant "has a population equivalent of 120 and was operating over capacity with a population equivalent of 142 in 2019".
It currently has no plans to upgrade or increase capacity and says “additional investigations are required” to ensure the public water supply system can cater for additional development in the area.
Mr Merrigan believes upgrading infrastructure could form part of development charges if planning were granted.
"The Veales might have accepted that and at least would not have wasted money on pointless reports," he said. "Ironically the council now prohibits one-off housing yet can’t provide planning in a residential-zone area! And this is not unique to Waterford."
The Veales have appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála.