HOURS of debate took place before Clare County Councillors approved an East Clare Local Area Plan 2011-17 on Monday.
The contentious issue was the zoning of lands at Ardclooney, Killaloe, the proposed site for a marina. Councillors ultimately voted in favour of allowing the zoning, even though it was contrary to the county manager’s recommendation and was also against the recommendation of an appropriate assessment carried out in respect of the Draft Local Area Plan. County Solicitor John Shaw was in the chamber to give legal advice in advance of the vote.
The members were informed that the appropriate assessment was carried out to comply with a European habitats directive and it had found that the site in question shouldn’t be zoned. He also outlined the legal standing of the assessment.
With regard to what part of the council should carry out an assessment he was unequivocal. “In my view it is quite clear it is carried out by the executive.”
Mr Shaw said that while there are certain situations where the type of advice being discussed can be over ridden, he didn’t feel this was relevant to the matter in question.
One example he gave was of a motorway being constructed in a deprived German area but he didn’t feel that the development in question was of a similar ilk.
“It’s more difficult to see how a private development can satisfy a public need of that type.”
Mr Shaw faced a number of questions from the members about potential liability facing councillors if they didn’t follow the advice given in the assessment, should an action be taken.
He said he didn’t believe there was a very serious risk of liability falling to the members.
“Even if the courts find that the decision was wrong it doesn’t mean you didn’t carry out your duty correctly.”
However, he said he couldn’t offer an absolute guarantee, when pressed. “If you’re asking for an absolute guarantee the answer is a simple no.”
Councillor Pat Hayes said planning had almost been granted for a development at the site some years ago and said the current prevailing circumstances need to be borne in mind. “The issue is that the overriding public interest now is tourism development.”
He said the debate underway was “like a test case of overregulation”, while other areas of the county such as the Burren and Loop Head could face similar issues in the future.
Ultimately. the council agreed to pass a resolution submitted by a number of East Clare councillors, which proposed overruling the manager’s recommendation in relation to the lands at Ardclooney on a vote of 19 to five, with four councillors abstaining.
The East Clare Local Area plan passed in a vote taken shortly afterwards.