By Sean O'Riordan
Councillors are seeking a test case to be taken against An Bord Pleanála to prevent it from granting planning permission for hundreds of houses, as they claim it will swamp a village which hasn't the infrastructure to cope.
Councillors in Co Cork who spent months preparing Local Area Plans (LAPs) for the future development of towns and villages, but they will prove a useless exercise if An Bord Pleanála is allowed to overrule them.
They want to take a test case against the planning board on behalf of the residents of Glounthaune, 10kms east of Cork city.
The LAP for the area states that, to allow sustainable development, there should not be more than 400 new homes built there prior to 2022.
However, this figure has already been exceeded more than three years ahead of target and there are hundreds more homes in the pipeline.
Many of these are being lodged with An Bord Pleanála under Strategic Housing Projects. Under this process, developers lodging 100-house-plus plans can bypass the planning process with local authorities and have the decision made solely by the planning board.
Under new guidelines to combat the housing crisis it can overrule council LAPs.
Representatives from Glounthaune met with members of the Cobh/Glanmire municipal district council to outline their concerns about the prospect of being overrun by housing.
They said they were not against housing development, especially amid the current crisis, but wanted it to be carried out in tandem with infrastructure and amenity development.
Cllr Padraig O'Sullivan said he was extremely concerned that well thought-out council plans for the area would be brushed aside and Glounthaune was right in the firing line.
“There are legitimate concerns there that infrastructure isn't keeping up. They have rural roads which can't cope and storm water run-off issues because of heights of (the proposed) sites. There's a deficit of amenities there as well,” he said.
He also said the roads were overburdened with motorists using them as rat runs to get to work in the industrial powerhouse at nearby Little Island.
Cllr Anthony Barry agreed with him saying the population of the village had already increased significantly in recent years.
There is no centre to it either. It's our responsibility as a local authority to build sustainable communities. We need to do that now. We set out an LAP in a structured way. Now with this new fast-tracking to An Bord Pleanála they could tear up the LAP.
"An Bord Pleanála and the Department (of Housing) are also doubling the density of houses. It's totally outrageous that Dublin densities are being foisted upon us. The population of Glounthaune could quickly grow to a market town size if this is allowed,” Cllr Barry said.
Cllr Sinead Sheppard said councillors and council planners spent months and many late nights drawing up LAPs and now Bord Pleanála could override them.
She added that the villagers weren't against new housing, but wanted it phased in with appropriate infrastructure improvements coming in tandem.
Cllr Cathal Rasmussen said the council had to take a test case, up to a legal challenge, to curtail the planning board's power to ignore LAPs.
His colleagues agreed with him, including municipal district council chairman, Cllr Ger Keohane, who said he had similar concerns about proposed developments gridlocking nearby Glanmire.
The county council recently unveiled a €14m plan to upgrade roads and junctions in the Glanmire area to facilitate the building of hundreds of more houses there.
However, many people believe it doesn't go far enough and will only temporarily alleviate congestion. There are no similar plans for Glounthaune.
Cllr O'Sullivan pointed out that senior county council planners had agreed to meet a delegation of Glounthaune residents and local councillors in County Hall on November 26 to discuss their concerns.