'Bungalow Bliss' architect's anger as council imposes 'no warning' code

Story by John Donohoe

Wednesday, 6th January, 2010 4:53pm

'Bungalow Bliss' architect's anger as council imposes 'no warning' code

Jack Fitzsimons protested outside Meath County Councils budget meeting over its swift introduction of an EPA Code of Practice on wastewater treatment systems.

Former councillor Jack Fitzsimons, Kells, staged a one-man protest outside Meath County Council's budget meeting, accusing the local authority of "blatant bungling bureaucracy".

Mr Fitzsimons, a chartered architect and surveyor, was publisher of the famous 'Bungalow Bliss' book of house designs in the 1980s. He is claiming that Meath County Council has been overly heavy-handed in implementing a new code of practice for wastewater treatment systems for single houses, bringing it in just weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the code.

"After about three years' deliberation, the EPA, without any notice or warning, published on its website on 20th October 2009, that the new EPA Code of Practice was effective from that date," Mr Fitzsimons said.

Meath County Council, on 5th November 2009, notified all applicants and agents that all applications to build single rural houses would be assessed against this code of practice and have to meet the standards maintained therein, he added.

"In effect, this meant that all applications for planning permission for single rural houses awaiting a decision would be refused if not withdrawn," he added. "No exemptions were entertained. The result has caused serious inconvenience and considerable cost to the many people involved."

Mr Fitzsimons said that Meath is the only local authority to make the cut-off date 20th October last, claiming it acted on legal advice. He said that the EPA has claimed that planning authorities had discretion for the smooth introduction of the code.

"How else could it be that other councils - Louth, Wexford, Wicklow, Kildare, and Monaghan, for example - did not take this obdurate course?" he asked.

He said he is petitioning Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, to take, as a matter of urgency, steps to rectify the situation. It is an important code of practice which has not been introduced with the sense of professionalism and justice that would be expected and deserved, Mr Fitzsimons pointed out.

No proper lead-in time was allowed for applicants, agents and planning authorities to reorganise, acknowledge and adopt the new standards.

"In my opinion, a minimum lead-in time of three months should have been allowed," the Kells man said. "No specific training was given to agents, assessors or council officials, and no official notification to site assessors."

Bill Sweeney, senior executive officer with the corporate services department of Meath County Council, said that planning authorities are constrained by the policies and objectives set out in their individual development plans.

"The Meath County Development Plan requires persons proposing to construct a dwelling served by a proprietary wastewater treatment system for less than 10 persons to comply with current standards published by the EPA," Mr Sweeney explained.

"The agency published a new code of practice which came into effect on 20th October 2009. Meath County Council then determined planning applications with reference to those new standards. The council acknowledges that a small number of applications due for determination shortly after the effective date were adversely impacted," he acknowledged. "However, the planning authority proactively contacted applicants at that time to advise them of the new standards and the timeframe within which they had an opportunity to submit additional supporting data."

The elected council members had been pressing, over an extended period, for the immediate introduction of the new code of practice, which had been in draft form since the autumn of 2008, Mr Sweeney went on. The matter was raised at both corporate policy level and full council and the elected council resolved on at least three occasions that the new code of practice, once formalised by the Department of the Environment, should be implemented by Meath County Council at an early date.

The councillors expressed a view that the new code would, overall, be more beneficial for planning applicants, he said.

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