Decision to dezone land earmarked for residential use under new Development Plan could see house prices soar

Paul Murphy

People intending to move to live in Co Meath for work or a better lifestyle in the next few years won’t be able to because a scarcity of zoned land will push land and house prices out of their reach, a councillor claimed this week.

When councillors met to discuss a new county development plan on Tuesday a sharp divide emerged between those who want all the land zoned in the 2013-2019 development plan to stay in the new plan for the next six years and those who say that certain amounts of land zoned residential will have to be dezoned in accordance with national and regional planning rules.

The crunch for councillors came when Independent Cllr Brian Fitzgerald, speaking on the ‘Core Strategy, Settlement/Housing’ section of the proposed plan, called for all lands zoned for residential purposes across the county in the 2013-19 plan be retained in the 2020-2027 plan.

Stressing that he nor any of his family had any beneficiary interest in land, he claimed that planners were working on “out of date” figures contained in the 2016 census.

He said that the population figures had grown considerably since then. A senior council planner Padraig Maguire disagreed with this, saying that officials had extrapolated the 2016 figures for the new plan and their estimate was that the population would grow to 208,000. He added that there was no evidence to support extra zoning of land in the county.

Cllr Fitzgerald also suggested that the projected rise in population could be “out” by 85,000. The issue of population growth and development had been raised constantly at the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly but a combination of other counties had voted down any growth in Meath, he said.

“The sons and daughters of people who had moved into Meath from Dublin some years ago would not be able to afford a home in the county because of the price of land”, he aid.

Council officials and council legal advisor Rory McEntee advised that if national and regional planning guidelines were not followed, the office of the planning regulator and the Minister for the Environment could intervene. There was also the possibility of a legal challenge being taken which could tie the development plan up in the courts for three years.

Fianna Fail Cllr Aisling Dempsey said that councillors would have to stick by national guidelines, even if they didn’t like them.

“None of us have enjoyed the narrative of landowners and developers who are devastated and disappointed to lose their zoning, who were just about to submit planning applications, and who were victims of the last crash.

“It is not fair. It is not our fault, it is the national legislation’s fault – but we must comply”.

“We could walk out of this chamber and congratulate ourselves that we did our best for all the unhappy people losing their residential zoning.”

Their job was not to maintain the status quo but to do their best for the people of Meath to ensure that the new plan could be a blueprint for the future.

Councillors ran out of the allotted time for the meeting and a vote on the issue was deferred until today (Wednesday).

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