Council chiefs in Donegal have accused a leading environmental association of bias after they ranked it bottom of the pile in a league table for good planning.
The County Council claimed An Taisce was prejudiced against rural and peripheral regions after it was given an F minus grade for housing development in the latter half of the Celtic Tiger.
Seamus Neely, the county manager, accused the heritage body of ignoring the unique population and geography of the region.
“The criteria used to compare authorities and develop a league table appears unbalanced, ambiguous and biased,” it said.
“The generalisations presented in the report are put forward as national performance indicators but do not reflect the significant different considerations that must be taken into account in framing planning policy that exist between peripheral rural counties and other more urbanised parts of the country.
“It does not reflect the distinct national and regional policy frameworks that guide rural and urban development.”
According to Census 2011, there are 23,996 vacant homes in Donegal and 133 ghost estates. The county has a home vacancy rate of just under 16%, when holiday homes are excluded, compared to the accepted standard of 6%.
The council said three-quarters of the county’s population of 161,137 is rural. It also said that the latest development plan has set out 497 hectares of suitable housing land to meet demand.
An Taisce’s report said Donegal had about 2,250 hectares of residential land in 2010 and that based on population, land rezoned and permissions granted, the authorities in Donegal might as well not be planning at all.
The council accused the body, known as the National Trust for Ireland, of ignoring the fact that most planning permissions were for one-off or family dwellings as part of rural planning policy.
“Having regard to the demographic profile of Donegal it is not surprising that between 2000 and 2010, 85% of applications were in the rural areas of the county,” the council said.
“It is not evident that the regional and local considerations that have a relative significance in a place like Donegal received appropriate consideration in the report.
“The ’general picture of relative performance’ in the report is considered to be a distorted representation of the planning process in Donegal, ignoring its dominant rural character and its quite unique geographic location and demography.”
An Taisce ranked Donegal worst of 34 town and city local authorities, with Roscommon, Leitrim, Kerry, Mayo, Galway County, Cavan, Carlow and Waterford also on the bottom rung.
It also claimed there were links between bad planning and higher rates of residential vacancy including ghost estates, population decline and emigration, lower house prices and significant water pollution.