RURAL planning decisions in Kildare have again faced strong criticism from Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail, who has said that they continue to raise questions.
“I have recently raised my grave ongoing concerns at the Kildare Co Council refusal rate for once-off housing across the country,” he said. “I have proven with statistics for the first three months of this year in counties Louth, Meath, Laois, Offaly and Carlow that Kildare, with a refusal rate of 56%, is more than three times higher than the next highest refusal rate which, in Meath, stands at 17% for the same period.”
Deputy Ó Fearghail previously described Kildare’s rural planning system as ‘out of control’ and said that the situation has become intolerable over the past year or so. Kildare Co Council issued a statement in response saying that last year 100% of once-off rural housing applications refused were upheld by An Bord Pleanála. It went on to say that the population of rural Kildare has increased “significantly” over the past decade and that the Council applies policies set out at national, regional and local level as appropriate in adjudicating on planning applications.
In his latest comments, Deputy Ó Fearghail remarked that “in a recent press release emanating from what would appear to be the same unnamed officials who are involved in this situation, it was claimed that all once-off refusals appealed to An Bord Pleanála in 2018 were upheld. It was not pointed out, however, that only 15 such appeals were made with 9 being refused, 4 having revised conditions and 2 being withdrawn in 2018.
“Absolutely no explanation was offered, however, as to why the refusal rate in Kildare is a multiple of the rate of refusal in adjoining counties in the first quarter of the year studied.”
The ceann comhairle said that he has previously pointed out that council officials advised they were being “pressurised” by officials from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to reduce once-off rural housing developments in the county, but explained that he received a detailed response from Minister of State Damien English “refuting this further Council claim”.
A copy of this letter has been seen by the Kildare Nationalist , in which the Minister confirmed that the allegation that Department officials have pressurised Council staff in any county to increase once-off housing refusal rates is “groundless and without substance”.
“There has been no such pressure from my Department in any form and it is not a specific matter that has arisen in the context of any briefings or discussion in respect of the National Planning Framework (NPF),” he noted.
Minster English said that every planning application must be considered on its “individual merits” by local planning authorities in the context of the relevant county development plan and national policy and guidance, adding that any decisions can be appealed to An Bord Pleanála. Formulating and interpreting local development plan policy is a matter for individual planning authorities, he stated – in this case Kildare.
“The Kildare County Development Plan is relatively recent, dating from 2017,” the Minister noted. “It is understood from Kildare Co Council that a sub-committee of the Council, comprising ten elected members, has recently conducted a series of meetings, the purpose of which was to consider the application of policy and related impact on applications for planning permission for one-off rural housing and to report to the relevant Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) of the Council.”
The Minister explained that Kildare Co Council has advised that many of those recently refused permission hadn’t engaged with the planning authority in any pre-planning discussion – including some repeat applications where refusals had been issued “in respect of the same site”.
He also highlighted the recent establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) if concerns remain about inconsistencies in formulating and/or applying local planning policy in Kildare, “particularly if considered to be systemic in nature”, adding that he will raise these issues in future discussions with Kildare Co Council.
Deputy Ó Fearghail welcomed the response and remarked that “if there was nothing wrong with the planning system in Co Kildare why did the local authority establish a special committee of councillors to investigate the difficulties. And why was it that the very establishment of this committee was resented by some officials and that its work was at times very fractious”.
On foot of the local elections, he called on all councillors to ensure that the “integrity and purpose” of both the county development plan and national planning policy is respected and that “the rural residents of county Kildare are treated with the positivity to which they are entitled”.
A response from Kildare Co Council has been sought but, as of time of press, no comment has been provided.