20 Aug 2022

Eyes on minister over Limerick development plan

Eyes on minister over Limerick development plan

THE GOVERNMENT minister who will decide on a plan which dictates what can be built in Limerick has not indicated whether he’ll step in to make changes.

Responding to a query from the Limerick Leader, a spokesperson for Minister Peter Burke said he could not comment due to the fact a live statutory process is under way.

In June, councillors signed off on the development plan, and now Mr Burke is the only person who has the power to override what members have decided.

Upon seeing this plan, the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) – which exists to ensure national planning policy is upheld - did contact Mr Burke expressing opposition to the change of use of several patches of land in Limerick, warning of the impact it might have on flooding.

It is ultimately the minister’s decision as to whether to act on the recommendations of the regulator - it's very rare for the view of the OPR to be disregarded.

Councillors had moved to rezone six patches of land, going against the advice of their own chief executive Dr Pat Daly. This is important, as the way the land is zoned will impact what type of developments - if any - can go ahead on them.

For example, if land is zoned open space, planners are bound to reject any kind of developments on them. If land is zoned residential, it's unlikely anything other than housing can be built on site.

Councillors sought to rezone an area of 33 hectares of land in Ballysimon for a data centre.

But the planning regulator called upon this to be deleted, on the basis the land is "isolated and peripheral", adding it is "not consistent" with strategies focused on compact growth.

In the 45-page communication from the OPR, the minister was also asked to adopt the plan without a number of other changes-of-use of lands, saying the councillors, in rejecting Dr Daly's recommendations to not alter areas, have in some cases seen members "misapply or misunderstand" flood guidelines.

In essence, flood guidelines limit development on areas close to waterways in an era of climate change which sees rivers burst their banks more often.

Crucially, a recommendation from the OPR could impact on the development of housing at the former Greenpark Racecourse.

Here, councillors initially voted to rezone the land from enterprise and employment to new residential.

It comes off the back of planning permission being granted for 371 new homes, but with the owners of the land Voyage Properties envisaging a new village with up to 900 living spaces on the vast site.

They pointed to the fact that An Bord Pleanala had green-lit the first phase of these plans.

While the planning regulator acknowledged the land where the housing was permitted is in a low flood risk zone, there are "significant concerns" that the overall area "is essentially not suitable for the development type envisaged."

Consequent to this, the regulator urged Mr Burke to reject the rezoning, and keep the land earmarked for enterprise, employment, open space and recreation - apart from the area where An Bord Pleanala has approved the housing.

A council spokesperson said that the majority of the development plan for Limerick is now in play – apart from the elements the planning regulator had taken issue with.

Members of the public will be able to have their say on the changes which are being proposed by the OPR between Saturday, August 6 and Friday, August 19.

Taking into account the views of the public, Dr Daly will then respond to the OPR, which will then issue a further recommendation to Mr Burke.

It is after receiving this, the minister will issue a final binding order to the council, with the contents of this automatically going into the development plan.

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