'Just one large commuter belt'

In the latest of a series of controversial decisions, Wicklow County Council has ignored the advice of its own planners and rezoned land near Greystones to enlarge a massive housing project. With inadequate roads, poor public transport and limited employment opportunities, locals fear the area will become just one large commuter belt. By Frank Connolly



Pictured: Sispar's plans for Greystones Harbour 


Residents and local representatives in the Greystones area of Co Wicklow are furious about a number of planned developments they say will transform the area into a massive housing belt, bereft of employment, proper transport and vital amenities.

“Every piece of available green land has been opened up for development,” says former local councillor Evelyn Cawley. “The area is becoming just one large commuter belt.”

There are a number of schemes in and around Greystones causing conern:

• Over 6,000 people have signed a petition objecting to a proposal for a new residential and retail complex along the North Beach in Greystones. The developers Sispar – a public private partnership involving Wicklow County Council, Sisk and Park Developments –  plan to reclaim 37 acres from the sea, extend the existing harbour,  build a large marina and houses and apartments for 1, 000 people.

• Developer Bernard McNamara has acquired the golf club lands south of Greystones and is seeking to build a large housing development on the site along the coastline.

• Another developer, Sean Dunne, and Zapi Properties Ltd, a company controlled by Sean Mulryan, have just completed a 1,450-unit development at Charlesland, three kilometres from Greystones.

In early December, councillors decided to further rezone lands at Charlesland against the advice of the council's senior planners and in contravention of the Draft Local Area Development Plan commissioned by the council management.

The rezoning will allow another 210 houses beside the existing 1,450 unit-housing and apartment scheme at Charlesland. It is the latest in a series of controversial decisions by Wicklow County Council.

Poor public transport

Charlesland is poorly served by public transport and other facilities for its young population. Residents asked their representatives to oppose the rezoning of the nearby lands from commercial to residential use. They argued that the existing zoning was intended to provide for a business park which would generate local employment for residents who currently commute in large numbers to Dublin for work.

However, local Greystones councillor George Jones of Fine Gael proposed the rezoning motion. It was supported by Derek Mitchell of Fine Gael and Kathleen Kelleher of Fianna Fáil, who also represent Greystones on the council. The three members agreed to co-sponsor the rezoning after they held a number of private meetings with the developers.

At the meetings, Sean Dunne and Sean Mulryan promised to provide sites for a new school, a new Garda station and a recycling facility in return for the rezoning of the lands.

Although Wicklow County Manager Eddie Sheehy and his senior planner had opposed the proposal when it was first suggested at a meeting of the council in September, he was asked by councillors to negotiate a legal agreement with the developers.

At the council meeting on 4 December, council members were given copies of the agreement by Eddie Sheehy. It included details of the promised sites for a school and Garda station. The agreement was signed by Eddie Sheehy, Sean Dunne of Berland Homes and a director of Brambleglen, a company controlled by Sean Mulryan.

One local councillor, Tom Fortune of Labour, opposed the rezoning but only three members, including Labour's Conal Kavanagh and Green Party councillor Deirdre de Burca, supported his view. Several other councillors including Labour's Nicky Kelly from Arklow and Pat Vance of Fianna Fáil enthusiastically praised the county manager for his success in reaching agreement with the developers.

Derek Mitchell of Fine Gael, who is the mayor of Greystones and one of the supporters of the rezoning, said that it was the only way the Charlesland community could be guaranteed a school and badly-needed shopping facilities. He said that he had attended three private meetings with the developers, Sean Dunne and Sean Mulryan, before he decided to second the rezoning motion.

“Nobody was offered anything personal. The town was offered facilities which are badly needed,”  Derek Mitchell told Village.

Labour councillor Tom Fortune said that he had attended two meetings with the developers but was not invited to a third after he made clear his opposition to the Charlesland rezoning.
“The residents in Charlesland asked their public representatives to oppose this rezoning as they are concerned with overdevelopment. They have very few facilities as it is and they want to see improvements before any more housing goes into the area. The developers who have made millions on the development are providing a few acres of land but the school and Garda station have to be paid for by the tax payer,” Tom Fortune said.

Green party councillor Deirdre de Burca said that the rezoning was “bounced” on the council after the private meetings between the developers and members of the local area committee in Greystones.

“The vision was for a mixed commercial development on those lands. Essentially the rezoning was bounced on us in September by the Greystones Local Area Committee after their discussions with the developers. The planners were against the proposal  which is contrary to the planning guidelines and the strategy proposed by the consultants who prepared the draft local area plan for 2006 to 2012,” she said. “The legal agreement made between the manager and the developers in my view prejudices the planning process.”

James Larkin, chairman of the Charlesland Residents' Association, said they had asked their local councillors not to support the rezoning of the lands. He said that a current study of the area is under way by the council and NUI Maynooth in order to assess the future needs of the community.

“We asked the councillors to delay any decisions until the results of this study are known but our request fell on deaf ears. We are not happy that there are plans to build these large, expensive houses on land which was supposed to be used for employment-creation. Charlesland is a good community but it is lacking in vital amenities. We only got a basic public bus service a few weeks ago. It is premature to continue building houses while proper facilities are not in place.”

He said that there was a direct line of communications between some councillors and developers who were overriding the concerns of the local community.

Wicklow council ‘ignored local concerns'

According to a former councillor and local community activist, Evelyn Cawley, there is popular disquiet at the scale of housing development in Greystones/Delgany.

“Every piece of available green land has been opened up for development. It is putting huge pressure on the inadequate road system and the area is becoming just one large commuter belt.   

“Eighty per cent of the townspeople are against the harbour development which is far too big in scale yet the council have ignored their concerns. The council are also the developers in this case,” she said.

“The other problem is that a small number of councillors are determined to undermine the draft local area plan and are in league with the developers.”

The draft development plan envisages a population of some 21,000 in Greystones/Delgany by 2010. However, with the spread of housing, the population will exceed that figure many years earlier, Evelyn Cawley said.

Councillor Mitchell dismisses the criticisms and claims that the harbour plan is a mark of progress for county Wicklow.

“If you want to go back to the British days you can but I don't want to. We need to move on and that means change,” he told Village. He claimed that people as far away as Canada, New York and Cuba had signed the petition against the controversial harbour development and that the objectors did not reflect the views of the community.