OFF THE SCALE

Council Chief unhappywith housing density of Williamstown project

The density of the proposed 324-housing development on a site off the Williamstown Road has been publicly queried by Waterford City & County Council’s Chief Executive.
Speaking at last Thursday’s plenary meeting at City Hall, Michael Walsh stated: “I don’t even agree with the density guidelines for Waterford, but I can’t change them. They’re a reality.”
Mr Walsh told Councillors: “But the simple reality is that the planning guidelines and planning policy in this country is dictated by a need to increase the densities – and even the developer mightn’t agree with it, ironically – but they have no chance of getting planning permission from An Bord Pleanála unless they achieve those densities so as a consequence they have to design accordingly. That’s the dilemma that we have here and that’s the essence of the issue.”
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In reaction, local Councillor Davy Daniels (Ind) told the meeting: “The large (apartment) complex will be the same size as the new Dunmore Wing at UHW…These plans are suitable for Dublin, they’re not suitable for Waterford…the report from the developer says that there are adequate school spaces but as all the Councillors of the area know, the schools are choc a block yet they (the developers) say that everything is perfect. It’s regrettable: giving An Bord Pleanála all this power is completely and totally wrong. I’m surprised that the (two main) political parties have allowed this to happen but they have.”

The proposed development, lodged by Cone Pine Properties Ltd (with Kieran Wallace as Receiver) on February 6th, seeks permission for the construction of 228 houses, 96 apartments (in 11 blocks), a crèche and associated site works. An Bord Pleanála received 51 submissions regarding the proposal, which is due to be decided by Tuesday, May 28th. The development is being advanced via the fast-track mechanism initiated by the Government in June 2017, which allowed project applications of more than 100 units to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála. The words of Michael Walsh on Thursday last in relation to the proposed development were not lost on Cllr Adam Wyse (FF).

“I think it’s important that whatever way it’s reported, that in the Chief Executive’s opinion even he himself thinks the (proposed) density isn’t suitable to Waterford and that the Council’s hands were tied by national policies.” Cllr Wyse continued: “I don’t want to get into the issue of national Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael policy against local politicians; we’re the people on the ground looking to represent the people in Williamstown, they need to know that our hands were tied with this, that we didn’t see or hear sight of this until it was too late in some cases. But the Chief Executive has stated here tonight that he doesn’t agree with the density issue and that maybe the developers didn’t necessarily agree with the density issues (either) and that the local Councillors that represented the people here for the last five years don’t agree with the density issue and I think that’s important. We’ve tried our best to represent them but unfortunately on this issue our hands are tied by national policy.”

Mr Walsh said there was “a reality here in terms of conflict between national policy and local wishes so let’s be clear about this. In absolute terms, the national planning guidelines dictate, for urban areas such as this, the planning density is up in the territory of 20 (units) to the acre. The simple reality and every development in the city is struggling with this at the moment, is that cannot be achieved without using apartments on the development. It simply cannot be achieved. So there has been a Government decision, a national policy decision that we have to drive development density in our urban areas for the reasons of efficiency and effectiveness of everything from our transport services to using the existing drainage, roads, water, every other service that is there so that we’re not continuing this urban sprawl that’s evident in Irish cities, generally speaking and all I can say to you is that our planners, in their element of the report, are obliged to have regard for national policy. And we can only reflect that. They’ve done so on a professional basis and they’ve also tried to reflect the views of the Councillors accurately and then the public and others; their court is An Bord Pleanála and they have to make their representation there…But at the end of the day we are not the decider, the Bord is the decider. We’ve made our commentary (on the proposal) from a professional planning perspective, the commentary is (also) there from the perspective of the Councillors and we can’t do any more than that.”
Cllr Eddie Mulligan (FF), referring to a report of the Council Workshop held to discuss the Williamstown proposal on March 6th (which was not attended by the CEO) said all Councillors in attendance had offered “resounding” reasons for their opposition.

“Having reviewed the CEO’s report, which was signed by the Director and the Senior Planner, I don’t think that the passionate input at the meeting and the overwhelming representations raised in relation to the development, were expressed (sufficiently in the report). And, to cut it short, the two main oppositions were, obviously density and for the people living out there, apartment blocks will increase the density in a totally unsuitable form so my point is that I was disappointed that the spirit of the meeting and the passion of the meeting wasn’t reflected in the submission (to An Bord Pleanála), in terms of its opposition.”
In response, Economic Director of Services Michael Quinn stated: “In relation to the parameters that we have to operate in, the provisions in the legislation in terms of the report requires us to report on the Councillors’ views and to provide the Council Executive’s view in our report to An Bord Pleanála. That is what we have done. It does not provide for us to take account of all the residents’ views, the residents and other members of the public can both express those views to yourselves, which they have done, and we have reflected your views in the report which obviously reflects the views that were expressed to you, and then they can also express their views to An Bord Pleanála.”

Mr Quinn continued: “Ultimately, An Bord Pleanála is the decision maker in relation to this particular development because it is a strategic housing development. Hopefully they will take on board the views both of the residents, the Council, the Councillors in making that decision but ultimately they make the decision. The framework that they operate in, in the context of this, has been specifically provided in legislation. We have operated within that. In making our determination, in making our submission from an Executive’s point of view, we have to consider it within the regulations and the parameters that are in place in terms of housing densities, development plans and so on, all those are set down, and our views were expressed in the context of those parameters that we’re obliged to operate in; we can’t operate within a ‘we don’t like the look of it’ type of environment, we must adjudicate based on the regulations and the parameters that are set down in the framework that we have.”

Regarding a potential appeal against An Bord Pleanála’s ultimate decision on the project, Mr Quinn stated: “A judicial review is only against process. To consider that would obviously be very serious. They’re could be very significant costs and we would have to obviously consider the need for it if circumstances warranted it, if there was sufficient legal justification or a legal case to make.” Cllr Pat Fitzgerald (SF) noted that the fast-track housing legislation “was largely responsible for the Williamstown development and they (An Bord Pleanála) may not even take into consideration the management’s request that they decrease it to one apartment block and replace it with eight houses. I find it very difficult to blame the management of the Council for this one.”
Cllr Matt Shanahan (Ind) said that the “precedent of height” represented by the proposed apartment blocks represented had to be considered in the context of “two other large planning applications, I believe, to come over the next 12 months in the area and have we now set a precedent here in terms of height in that whole area which to me, seems totally overdone. The fast track planning has obviously been devised for the Dublin market and has been adopted here. Like others here, I am disappointed that we didn’t stick to the idea of replacing those apartment blocks with (house) units; I know the density would be lower but I think it would reflect better on the area if the Council had stuck to its guns. That level of density is not required out there and it’s not been catered for in terms of roads, sewerage, water and all the rest of it.”

Cllr Davy Daniels (Ind) said the potential imposition of such a dense housing development should, at the very least mean additional funding for road improvements and the construction of a second city crossing. “Will the Government give us funding for that?” he queried. He added: “We’re talking about a housing development where people have bought their houses; everyone strives to buy a house, get a loan and have the chance to live in a lovely area. All of those residents’ associations in that area, were it not for the work of those people they collect (money) regularly and get their grass cut. Without them we wouldn’t be able to survive as a Council. They’re the people that are doing the work on the ground and it should have been expressed in the report. This kind of development in this particular area is completely and totally unsatisfactory.”

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