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Council denies Westbury housing ‘trade off’

AN Bord Pleanála has been asked to examine if Clare County Council’s approval for the completion of a housing development in Westbury represented a “trade-off of sorts” with NAMA.

Councillor Cathal Crowe has submitted a planning appeal to An Bord Pleanála on behalf of former defence minister, Willie O’Dea and 125 residents, who are strongly opposed to the completion of 22 residential units and site works in Westbury.

In a recent submission lodged with the appeals board, Councillor Crowe stated the question had to be asked “if the impartiality of Clare County Council in adjudicating this planning file was compromised”.

However, Clare County Council has responded by saying that the planning process is totally open, with all reports available for inspection on the planning file. The planning authority said it is “extremely disappointed” with Councillor Crowe’s allegations, describing them as “totally inappropriate” and “unjust”.

A spokesperson for the council said it will be making observations on the appeal direct to ABP, as provided for under the planning regulations.

“As noted in the planner’s report, this development was previously granted planning permission and the foundations of the structures are still present on site, albeit overgrown. The planning process allows for an appeal of the council’s decision to an independent third party (An Bord Pleanála), who consider the application afresh and issue a final decision in the matter.

“The council will not make comments on individual planning proposals, other than allowing for the inspection of all reports on the planning file, while the application is still within the appeal period.

“The council is extremely  disappointed with the councillor’s comments regarding ‘trade off’ and ‘willy nilly’ approach to development, which are totally inappropriate and unjust. It would be preferable that elected representatives would refrain from commenting on the planning process and allow individual applications be determined through the open transparent process that already exists and allows for an adjudication by an independent planning appeals board,” the council stated.
Councillor Crowe claimed that throughout the duration of this application process, the council’s planning department continued to hold parallel and simultaneous negotiations with Chieftain Development, in receivership, so that a site resolution plan for the completion of Bruachlan/Grianán, Westbury could be progressed.

“The planning file that is the subject matter of this appeal related to the very same housing development. Could it be that the granting of permission for the construction of 22 houses was the council meeting the receivers half-way, a trade-off of sorts?,” he asked.
He also alleged that the council paid “scant regard” to the 14 grounds on which residents objected to the development when the planning application was submitted to the planning authority for consideration.

Commenting on the 18 planning conditions attached by the council to its planning approval for the development, he claimed they related to “very standard and innocuous matters, such as the required specification for street-lighting and footpath paving”.
In another stinging assertion, he claimed the council had outrightly failed to address the macro issues of “over-development, poor road access to the site and abject lack of local amenities, amongst others”.

The appeal also included 14 different grounds of objection, outlining why the board should overturn planning approval for the development.

With just one entrance to the estate, with about 1,000 housing units, the appeal stated there is a serious traffic problem, with large tailbacks of cars exiting the estate during weekday mornings. It warned that further traffic on this road will only worsen an already “dangerous situation”.

Expressing concern about the lack of signage within the estate, it noted the development would add to further confusion and would impact on access for emergency vehicles.

“With its high density of housing and sizeable population, Westbury may be considered a small town, yet it lacks all of the basic community services and amenities that one might expect. There is no community hall or designated play area for young children growing up in the area. At this juncture, the residents of Westbury need more open space and less development.

“Many homes in Westbury experience low water pressures. An additional 22 houses will further burden a network of mains pipework that already struggles to supply all existing houses in the estate.

“The proposed location of the 22 new houses is in close proximity to the banks of the River Shannon. In November 2009, high water levels on the Shannon breached the banks some 600 metres away in the nearby Shannon Banks estate. The development of more housing units would, in our opinion, increase the propensity to flood lands in the locality,” the appeal stated.

Two residents, Darragh and Geraldine McLoughlin, expressed concerns regarding the condition of the estate as left by previous developers, health and safety issues, traffic safety and impact of further development.

In a submission to the council, on behalf of the receivers for Chieftain Development last November, Limerick-based architects EML, Diarmuid P Maguire pointed out that Chieftain Development had not made the latest planning application.

“Separately, the council are well advanced in discussion for the process of preparing documentation for site rectification works on the site. In fact, this documentation is ready for putting out to tender.

“The construction of 22 residential units is not going to have any significant effect on traffic congestion in the area. The NRA has long term plans to complete the northern section of the Limerick ring road, which will have a traffic calming effect on the Corbally Road,” Mr Maguire stated.

Sixteen of the proposed units are located in the proposed cul-de-sac adjacent to No. 87 Bruachlan, while the remaining six units are situated in another cul-de-sac between properties 24 and 31.

Planning permission was granted despite a warning from An Taisce that the completion of 22 residential units and site-works in Westbury, without any proven demand, could create another “construction bubble”.

A council planning report noted the subject site is zoned within an existing housing development, Bruachlan, on lands zoned as “low density residential”.

It stated while the site resolution plan is ongoing as a separate process, it would be prudent to include a condition of planning permission providing for the provision of public open space, prior to the commencement of works on the site.

“These works may get done as part of the site resolution process or as part of this application. However, either way, it is considered they would be completed prior to further housing here,” the report outlined.

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