Court ruling throws zoning plans into doubt

The High Court is to quash part of the new Meath County Development Plan relating to the zoning of certain lands in the southern environs of Drogheda for residential development.

The indication of a final decision was made just before Christmas by Justice Richard Humphreys when he ruled on an application for a judicial review made by Protect East Meath, a non-profit organisation with a mission to ensure that future developments in East Meath only takes place with strong environmental protections.

The development plan 2021-2027 was voted on and passed by the council in September.

The extent of the quashing order will not be known until the New Year when the judge is expected to set out his reasoning behind his decision.

Meath Co Council has said it will have to await this judgement to consider its implications and a further update is expected to be given to the 40 elected members of the council at their February meeting.

The courts will resume on 6th January but no date has been fixed for the delivery of the judgement.

The main argument put to the court by Protect East Meath was that the council failed to conduct a valid strategic environmental assessment.

It said that the National Planning Framework was a plan agreed by Ireland’s politicians and the public was “a legally binding” document now serving as a template for accommodating Ireland’s growing population to the year 2040.

This also impacted on land use and zoning. A central goal of the NPF was to ensure the correct infrastructure, including jobs, health, education, transport, accompanied residential development and that development was carried out in a sustainable and environmentally strong way, it said.

The group also argued that the county plan must be consistent with the National Planning Framework and the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy.

“Since the public consultation phase before the county plan 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. An Bord Pleanala and the Office of the Planning Regulator 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 adoption of the current County Development Plan 2021-2027”.

The organisation said its main points were that too much land had been zoned residential; the Joint Urban Area Plan had been undermined and that there had been no infrastructural assessment. Solicitor Fred Logue who leads the Protect East Meath organisation and acts as its spokesperson said it was formed four or five years ago and comprised volunteers who operated the body on a shoestring.