The National Planning Framework (NPF) is a plan that was agreed by Ireland’s politicians and the public and this legally binding plan now serves as a template for accommodating Ireland’s growing population to the year 2040. This also impacts on land use and zoning. A central goal of the NPF is to ensure the correct infrastructure (jobs, health, education, transport etc) accompanies residential developments and that development is carried out in a sustainable and environmentally strong way.
The County Development Plan (CDP) for Meath must be consistent with the NPF and related policies such as the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES), which transposes the NPF to a more local level, right down to our own CDP.
Since the public consultation phase before the CDP 2021-27 was adopted right through to the recent High court ruling, Protect East Meath has made submissions to the responsible authorities in relation to flaws in the zoning of lands for residential use in the South Drogheda environs. Meath Country Council, An Bord Pleanála and the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) were formally advised of our concerns at the relevant stages of the process. Because these competent authorities ignored or disagreed with our arguments in relation to the zoning in the Southern environs, we had no choice but to pursue the matter in the courts. The High court has now confirmed that the points we raised are correct and legally valid.
The provision of much-needed housing in our community would likely have been accelerated if the competent authorities had fully heeded the NPF stipulations, prior to the adaptation of the current CDP 2021-27.
We took this course of action In the interest of the proper planning, sustainable development, environmental protection and ultimately the good of our community – all of us existing and future residents of Louth/Meath.
The main points raised by Protect East Meath in relation to the residential zoning in the Southern Environs of Drogheda are:
- Too much land zoned residential: The NPF requires that the provision of new residential units for our growing population is carried out in an orderly and hence expedient way. This means that the growth is compact, in the right place and accompanied by infrastructure such as medical centres, schools, public transport and jobs. The CDP 2021-27 attempted to zone 6-8 times the amount land actually required (178.7 Hectares or the equivalent of 250 soccer pitches (based on 0.714 hectares for a soccer pitch) instead of the approximately 30-40 hectares required) to accommodate officially projected population growth. In addition to poorly coordinated development patterns, this scenario would also have put unfair pressure on developers as a ‘foot race’ to develop lands would have ensued i.e. After the first 1600 residential units (maximum allowed under the CDP 2021-27) are built anywhere within the vast 178 hectare area, no more units may be provided until the next development plan at the earliest (2027). The fastest developers would have the economic gain – speed over proper planning and sustainable development. This could have resulted in a piecemeal, ad hoc even chaotic development pattern or a ‘business as usual’ approach using the language of the NPF. A pattern we are familiar with in Louth and East Meath.
- Undermining Joint Urban Area Plan (UAP): The RSES requires Louth and Meath county councils to draw up a joint UAP for the Drogheda area as a whole, including the Northern cross route area of Drogheda. Such a UAP is a detailed and carefully prepared plan, that recognises that population growth is occurring and serves as a template to provide certainty to developers and the community as to how an area is to be developed – where the residential units go, their density and where the accompanying essential infrastructure goes (roads, cycle paths, medical centres, retail, education facilities, green areas, employment areas etc etc). Such UAPs ultimately speed up development, reduce litigation and planning delays and provide certainty and clarity to the community and developers. Meath and Louth County council have yet to draw up this UAP. Where is it?
- No Infrastructure Assessment: In drawing up a CDP and, more locally UAPs, an infrastructure assessment must take place before such plans are finalised. This is clearly mandated by the NPF. Briefly, such as assessment categorises land into 3 tiers. Priority is given to brownfield sites or building within the already built up area over greenfield sites. Tier 1 is ‘ready to go’ land which has services like water, electricity and road/cycle ways in place and should be developed first. Tier 2 typically adjoins Tier 1 lands but may not have all required services in place to allow immediate commencement of development. Tier 3 lands have no services in place and should not be zoned (zoning stays ‘rural’ or ‘white lands’). Such lands may be zoned at a future time. In summary, a sequential order of development is required on land by law.
No infrastructure assessment is in place for the 178.7 hectares zoned residential in South Drogheda in the Meath CDP or indeed for any area in the County. Such an assessment should have been carried out by the county council prior to the zoning of any. The UAP to be put in place jointly by Louth and Meath County councils must also have regard to such an infrastructure assessment. Once the court publishes its judgment in the New Year we will find out exactly what the legal position and we will know whether there will be an appeal or if the Council intends varying the development plan to bring it into line with the Court’s ruling.