Fingal County Council planners (the executive) don’t like democracy and I don’t say this lightly. I say it after 20 years of experience. Well, maybe to be more accurate in terms of the Fingal executive (as against the planning appeals Board), I should say 12 years, because it started back in 2010.
I won’t repeat that time again, because it’s well documented in my blogs; Power and Propaganda, which tell that part of our story. I’ll cut to after Christmas last year (2021) when two of our local councillors told us that they were shocked to see that the executive of Fingal County Council, (AnnMarie Farrelly and the Director of Planning, her chief advisor Matthew McAleese), had put down a recommendation to de-zone our land. (The bit we had left after the last fun and games at the Board with the Paul Hyde/Philip Jones/Terry Prendergast special- An Bord Pleanála are in another league when it comes to democracy and transparency). The councillors had kindly waited until after Christmas so as not to spoil it for us. We were baffled and angry, but not surprised.
After An Bord Pleanála (appeals board) overturned our grant of planning in 2017, all the local councillors and TDs met. The outcome of the meeting was to ask the executive in Fingal to support a variation. (We even took a photo on the day!). The councillors had voted on the zoning you see. It is their role in the planning system; local democracy at work. We elect them and therefore they (unlike others) are accountable. They were shocked when the planning appeals Board made their strange decision and overturned the grant of permission from Fingal County Council, for Holmpatrick Cove.
To put things in context, at this stage, local councillors had already voted on the zoning of our land FOUR times- 2001, 2010, 2011 and 2016 – These had been lengthy, detailed debates. There was an awful lot of misinformation pedalled about. But the local councillors knew their town and their area. They backed our plans for our land. They didn’t buy the propaganda coming from some executive planners.
In a meeting that followed with me and Michael, AnnMarie Farrelly, (as sympathetic as she appeared to be), said she couldn’t do the variation for technical reasons. She said she could only “look at it in the context of the next development plan process”. We respectfully told her (and planner Peter Byrne) we wouldn’t be around in five years. Well, as it turned out, we weren’t quite right. We were ravaged. But we were still standing. It was a tough five years to put it mildly.
Fast forward five years and back to the “context of the next development plan”. We were sold a bit of a pup by the executive in 2017. The executive ignored the councillors support for developing that land and decided instead to de-zone it. So now we were faced with yet another vote with many new councillors who wouldn’t be familiar with what had gone before. This vote would be number FIVE. It wasn’t easy. There was the same propaganda coming from the executive – Let me give you an example – those of us living in Skerries don’t see the Rush Road as rural Fingal. It’s residential and attached to the town. I should know. I grew up on the Rush Road. It’s also much closer to the centre of town than many of the developments to the north of Skerries, (Barnageera Cove, Hamilton Hill). But you see AnnMarie and Matthew say it’s remote and that the road is inadequate. (They’re talking about the Regional road with the Dublin bus route by the way). They say the land isn’t serviced. (That means paths, transport, mains water, electricity and gas to you and I – which it has). They say it is coastal. Yes, it’s coastal but can I tell you the housing is as far away from the coast as Supervalue is in Church Street (if not further). And they have started to bring back the birds on the islands. Honestly most of the town of Skerries is closer to Shenick island than that land. It’s not as if we haven’t provided them with evidence based studies over the years. But why spoil a good conspiracy. Especially when you are in control of the information.
That last vote was a pain. That of course is an understatement. We’d been through it too many times before. History repeating itself again. Same forces at play. I have a theory, gained from my years at the frontline, that the executive are defending the indefensible; the planning history and especially that Board decision. The decision (and not only that one) that should be bang smack in the middle of all three of the Inquiries going on (well maybe not the third one, the planning regulator OPR, because of the conflict; his parents live across the road from the entrance). The executive has obviously decided that to not defend that Board decision would “open up an appalling vista”.
We won that vote, the FIFTH one. It was close. It was thanks to our local councillors who fought hard……..again. Over the years I can only thank them all (and I’m talking the retired and new local councillors) for their support for us. They have had to work against a system that is doing the same thing over and over again, in the hope that eventually they will get a different result. (what is that a definition of?). Or maybe they are just hard losers. They lost the vote in March. The FIFTH time the councillors voted. But wait for it. They are back again. Take SIX. They want another vote in September. To be sure, to be sure, to be sure, to be sure, to be sure, to be (effing) sure. AnnMarie and Matthew now recommend that the glamping and the housing is de-zoned again. I read the report. It’s very compelling. Except it’s not. It is the same propaganda. Same as last March. Same as the 2010/2011 meeting when senior planner, Rachael Kenny, (Director of Planning in An Bord Pleanála since 2015) led the charge. Political gaslighting, to use the modern term.
And I’m sorry if you think my tone is disrespectful. It’s way past the time to be respectful. We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. Michael and I jokingly say, we have been long cured from our Stockholm Syndrome. This is people’s lives and livelihoods these public servants are dealing with. Oddly I wouldn’t even wish the consequences on them or their families.
If you notice I don’t include the 2016 vote. Paul Reid was CEO at that time and he stopped the attempted propaganda at that meeting. You see, he didn’t come from the system. He actually took the time to visit the site with us and discuss our plans. I remember in that council meeting he said “to de-zone that land would be a retrograde step”. Not long after that I met him at an event to celebrate Skerries winning the Tidy Town’s. He shook my hand told me to “keep up the good work”.
So finally, my question is, WHO are these planning executives serving? Why will they not accept the democratic vote? There was a lovely comment made the other day that resonated with me. (one of the numerous positive comments in reaction to the article about our proposal in the Sunday Independent); “The planners are servants of democracy. Not its masters”. Can somebody please send that memo to Fingal Co Co executive? (Oh and An Bord Pleanála while you are at it).
I hoped I would never have to write about planning again. I am so sick of it all, but as somebody said we are fighting for our lives. So, this time I am asking anyone, especially anyone from Skerries and the surrounding area, if you support what we are trying to do and don’t agree with the actions of the executive, could you send them a message? Could you please mail AnnMarie and Matthew in Fingal Executive. I will include their contact details below.
I will also include Fingal councillors’ emails. If you are of a mind in the next short while and if you have a spare moment, if you could let them know that you support our proposals we would appreciate it. (The councillors outside of Skerries rely on the executive to inform them and they have the same vote as the local councillors).
I won’t include our local councillors’ emails (as they know the full story) I would especially like to mention Karen Power and Seána O’Rodaigh, who Michael and I are so grateful to for their kindness and support and for proposing and seconding our motion last March. Nor will I include Tom O’Leary, Tony Murphy and Grainne Maguire, who have always supported us, both outside and in the chamber of Fingal Co Co. Michael and I really appreciate this too.
CEO AnnMarie Farrelly firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew MacAleese. email@example.com
Fingal Councillors (excluding local -Skerries/Balbriggan)