Councillors in Kerry have stepped back from supporting the legendary Kerry footballer Mick O’Connell and his neighbour in their bid to retain residential zoning for their lands on Valentia Island.
The surprise U-turn by the new council came after the new office of the Planning Regulator intervened and warned that "the substantial parcel of lands" was outside the core area of Knightstown and had to be zoned agricultural in the new West Iveragh Local Area Plan.
Just last May, in a proposal by Cllr Johnny Healy-Rae (Ind) the outgoing council unanimously voted to retain the low-density designation and rejected senior planners advice the parcel of 9.4 hectares, comprising of six to seven fields, had to be zoned agriculture.
The fields at Farranreagh stretch from just west of the village north along the coastline are highly scenic and there is already high level rural one-off housing outside Knightstown, the planners warned.
Mr O’Connell attended the May meeting in Killorglin with a neighbour, Skellig boat man Seanie Murphy. Both men have been heavily involved in philanthropy for the good of the community on Valentia including the donation of lands for community purposes. They would never contemplate ruining the land they had farmed for generations, they said in a written submission to the six-year draft plan for the island.
The then nine-member South and West Area council backed them and the amendment went out for final public consultation.
The newly appointed planning regulator – the independent office was put in place just last January by housing minister Eoghan Murphy to assess plans and zoning decisions - warned the council would be in breach of planning legislation if it persisted with the housing zoning outside Knightstown.
Knightstown has been identified as a growth settlement and consequently “the proposed zoning of greenfield lands for new residential development is not consistent with the Kerry County Development Plan” and is therefore in breach of the planning and development act.
Senior council planner Damien Ginty had told the council meeting there was a population of just 234 in Knightstown and the zoning would cater for 300 units. Dwelling houses for sons and daughters could still be considered for planning under agricultural zoning, Mr Ginty said.
Cllr Healy-Rae rejected the argument that the area is scenic saying “anywhere you stand on Valentia is scenic” and it was nonsense to suggest there would be 300 houses there.
On the Valentia site, even during the boom, all that was built was one house, the councillor said.
Cllr Healy-Rae was the only one of what is now a six-member Kenmare area council vote against the advice of the planning regulator at the final meeting which approved the new six year plan.
A majority of councillors also rowed back on zoning a site north of Cahersiveen again, on the intervention of the regulator.
Mr Healy-Rae said the council had made a decision before the election and now changed it “because we got a submission from someone in Dublin”.
I am very disappointed. It’s nonsensical. Same with Cahersiveen. That was an in-fill site. And it was fully serviced. If there’s not zoning, there won’t be housing, if there’s no housing, there won’t be people. Simple as that.