They're at it again: rezoning, that is.
Six months after the Green Councillors lost their seats on Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council the Fine Gael councillors are back to their old tricks. They're rezoning 30 acres of land of high amenity lands at Fernhill beside Three Rock Mountain for 660 houses. My view is that we've more than enough land zoning for housing already. Councillor-led rezoning became a debased currency a long time ago in Ireland.
You can get a good feel for what they're up to if you go to the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council website. Click on 'Councillors', and then on 'Council Business'. If the 4th November 2009 link is still up there you can delve into the belly of the beast and determine for yourself whether you approve of the motions that the councillors have submitted. Motion number 221 is signed by two Fine Gael councillors and allows for the rezoning of lands adjacent to Fernhill Gardens at Stepaside. They're currently zoned for amenity and agriculture, and the Fine Gael councillors want to change that to residential. Mind you, Minister Martin Cullen said in a submission that he supported an arts cultural and heritage amenity facility there, but I'm not sure about his views on the rezoning itself though Cllr. Jim O'Leary feels that he's supporting it. If you go this page, click 'register' then search for 'd1393' in the search box here you'll find Cullen's submission.
Further down the road in Kilternan Councillor Tom Joyce from Fine Gael also wants to rezone twenty acres of lands at Droimsi from agriculture to residential, and I hear on the grapevine that at least one former senior Fine Gael figure is lobbying hard on these issues. Cllr. Joyce is also busy removing proposed rights of way for walkers from the Plan.
Not that Fianna Fáil councillors are above reproach either. While FG are trying to up the amounts of retail floor space in some shopping centres, FF are doing itelsewhere. Even independent Councillor Gearoid O'Keefe is pushing for the expansion of retail uses at Carrickmines, off the M50.
Meanwhile at last Wednesday's Special meeting of the Council to discuss the County Plan Cllr. Barry Saul from Fine Gael was calling the Sutton to Sandycove cycleway a 'sop to the Greens' and a waste of money, and Cllr. Richard Boyd Barrett voted against the proposal.
There were 269 submissions that referenced rezoning, and in the 433 motions from councillors that are tabled on the County Council agenda rezoning is mentioned dozens of times.
Everyone is pushing for the expansion of shopping centres in what they believe will create much-needed jobs, but there is little realisation that expanding the floor are devoted to shopping
does not in itself create sustainable jobs
I suspect if some councillors were to get their way it would be a recipe for suburban sprawl from the Three Rock mountain to Dublin Bay. In one sense it is an ironic reworking of the Council's motto "ó chuan go sliabh- from the mountains to the sea". Sprawl is bad for business, bad for job creation, and bad for the planet. We'd be better off building mixed-use well-planned walkable communities. My fear is that many of the Councillors don't realise that their actions will increase car dependency and leave families a long walk away away from public transport connections. It will also hasten the decline of established retail centres such as the town of Dún Laoghaire.
The Labour Party has taken a much more considered approach to the County Plan. Cllr. Niamh Breathnach and Cllr. Dennis O'Callaghan come out of this as well, as does Cllr. Aidan Culhane who is going down the path that I took fifteen years ago- he's studying for a masters in urban and regional planning at UCD while attending to his duties as a councillor.
Look, I believe that many of the councillors proposing rezoning motions believe that they are doing so for the greater good of the County, but I just wish they had a wider understanding of the principles of 'proper planning and sustainable development'. There's a series of lenghty Council meetings scheduled for the week starting 16th November 2009. We'll see what emerges.
Maybe we should borrow an idea from the UK where the Royal Town Planning Institutes runs a Summer School for county councillors that is held back-to-back with the annual conference for professional planners. I suspect both groups could learn a lot from each other.