Gormley set to intervene in controversial rezoning

ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley looks set to ask county councillors in Waterford to revisit a controversial vote which saw them rezoning 63 acres of agricultural land last month.

A 13-8 majority of the county council voted to zone the land — which is part of a Garda investigation into planning irregularities in the county — for industrial use, against the advice of their officials. Mr Gormley said this week that promoting “good planning” was one of the reasons the Green Party went into government. “I want to ensure that we have the best planning in the Dungarvan area,” he told the Irish Examiner. “If you go ahead with a decision, against the best advice of your planners, then that is bad planning.” He urged them to “go back and have a rethink”.

However, to date there has been no official written advice from the minister or his department to the council to change the rezoning decision. “I have said very clearly that I don’t want to be in a position to use my powers to intervene,” said the minister, “but I have said that if the changes aren’t made and they go against the specific advice of planners, I will have to.”

Yesterday, a spokesperson for Mr Gormley — who visited Dungarvan on Tuesday — confirmed there was “ongoing contact and consultation” with Waterford County Council in relation to the rezoning vote.

The spokesperson said the minister would have concern about the rezoning as it was “pretty far away from the footprint of the town”.

An alternative piece of land proposed for industrial zoning by the county manager and planners was rejected by a majority of councillors, despite being adjacent to existing Irish Development Agency land, a main road and services. The site they rezoned is surrounded by agricultural land. Before last month’s vote, the minister had indicated to the councillors that he may veto any significant rezoning move and there was further contact with the council this week. “The minister still has concerns about what has been proposed for zoning in Dungarvan,” said the spokesperson.

The site in question is located at Ballygeoghegan, about two kilometres west of the town of Dungarvan. Planning permission for an industrial development on the site was already turned down last year, but a change in zoning is likely to prompt a new application by a local consortium of landowners and businessmen. Gardaí in the area have been carrying out an investigation into wider planning issues in the county and this involved interviewing all sitting councillors earlier in the year.

However, they stressed that no sitting councillors or officials are suspected of any wrongdoing. The investigation is continuing.


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