Cork councillors lash proposed dilution of powers for housing

Cork county councillors have reacted angrily to a section of a proposed Government bill which would remove their power to dispose of council-owned land for housing
Cork councillors lash proposed dilution of powers for housing

Darragh O'Brien, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, will be pushed by Cork county councillors to amend proposals to limit councillors' role in land disposal. Picture: Moya Nolan

Cork county councillors have reacted angrily to a section of a proposed Government bill which would remove their power to dispose of council-owned land for housing.

They've already reacted furiously to 'interference' from the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR), which objected to their decision to rezone land for a Kildare Village-type development in Carrigtwohill. The council is in the process of taking a judicial review against the OPR.

Now they face another diminution of their powers, as outlined by the leader of Fianna Fáil on the council, Seamus McGrath.

He said while he welcomed the intent of the Land Development Agency Bill to fast-track the delivery of much-needed housing, the council shouldn't support the removal of powers vested to them under section 183 of the Local Government Act.

That related to giving them the final say on disposal of local authority-owned land for such purposes.

“In this respect, we would ask that part 7, section 56 of the bill be amended to protect the role of councillors in the disposal of council land,” Mr McGrath said.

“Disposal of property is a key reserve function of [council] members. We would ask there would be an amendment to that. I've no doubt the minister [Darragh O'Brien] would listen to the pushback from local authorities on this,” he said.

Further interference

Fianna Fáil councillor Patrick Gerard Murphy said it was only recently that the council was overruled on the Carrigtwohill project by the OPR and this bill represented further interference in councillors' decision-making.

He maintained the council's track record on providing land for housing doesn't need to be questioned and asked if the introduction of the bill meant councillors weren't meant to be trusted.

“This, plus the role of the planning regulator, makes it extremely difficult to see what real functions local authorities will have into the future,” Fine Gael councillor Gerard Murphy said.

Fine Gael councillor Kevin Murphy said the bill represented another “serious diminution of councillors' powers”, adding that another was Irish Water taking over power for water and sewerage treatment projects from local authorities.

“I've never heard of this council not assisting in helping housing development,” Fianna Fáil councillor Bernard Moynihan said. 

End up in the courts

He said every move possible should be taken to remove the section from the bill and if this didn't happen “it could end up in the courts.” 

“This is not the correct move to remove councillors from the equation. We should be the ones making the decisions, not somebody in Dublin who doesn't know the local area. It's one of the few powers we have left,” Fianna Fáil councillor Gearóid Murphy said.

“We are doing everything in our power to provide land for social and affordable housing. We know our own areas, their needs and what's wanted,” Fianna Fail councillor Frank O'Flynn said. 

“The diminution of councillors' powers has been frightening over the years,” Fianna Fáil councillor Joe Carroll said.

Mayor of County Cork, independent councillor Mary Linehan-Foley, said they'd write to Mr O'Brien asking him to remove the clause from the bill.

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