We’ll see the future shape of the county by September
In normal times – and BC (before Covid) – a development plan for Co Meath would be done and dusted and into operation by April or May.
This year, with the pandemic overshadowing almost every aspect of daily life in the country, the county council will consider it has done well if it gets to the finishing line by September. It has been a long struggle. Development plans – a road map designating the shape of the county for a number of years – are usually in gestation for a number of years and being geared up to supersede the old plan.
The 2013-2019 County Development Plan is still in existence and will operate until the new 2021-2027 plan is completed and brought into play this Autumn. But the production of the new plan has presented county council staff with a huge task in preparing the plan and councillors have also been putting in long hours into their own deliberations on the plan.
So far, since 16th November last year, they have spent about 75 hours in meetings of the council, scrutinising the plan line by line and injecting their own input to it. That was reasonably possible when the 40 members of the council were able to meet in a physical sense (and socially distanced) in the Solstice Theatre but this had to come to a halt with the onset of the latest Covid lockdown. They had to switch to Zoom only meetings (from 11th January last), a controversial move in itself since up to 13 councillors declared that they did not want to participate through the internet.
Most councillors have been meeting twice or three times a week since November but deliberations on the draft plan came to a temporary halt on 6th February last when planning staff had to be diverted from the draft plan to dealing with 250 planning applications which came into the council offices since before Christmas. Some of these are time-sensitive and will have to be decided on this month.
After that halt in proceedings, it is expected that councillors, council staff, and the council legal advisor will restart their discussions by Zoom on 3rd March and go on to the 6th. With 15.5 hours of meetings planned for those days, there may be some optimism for seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Hopefully, according to the council, councillors will take a final vote on the draft plan on the 6th, making way for a number of legal steps before the plan finally comes into effect.
Members of the public have, more than ever, taken a keen interest in this development plan and this was reflected in the fact that they made 2,500 submissions on the draft contents. In a few weeks time the plan will go on public display for 4-6 weeks when the public will again be able to make submissions to the council.
One of the most controversial aspects of the draft plan – and one that exercised the minds of councillors and their constituents – was the council’s stated intention to reduce the number of new one-off houses in the county, replacing them with “nodes”, small clusters of 5-6 houses in up to 50 locations.
By September the final shape of the new county development plan will be known.