The year 2003 was a very busy and demanding year for both the elected members of Sligo County Council and the Planning department with no less than four different development plans being debated in the Council chamber in the course of the year.
In addition, the number of planning applications received by the Council increased by 13.87% which reflected the increased level of development proposed in the county.
During 2003, 1108 planning applications were received by the council, in comparison to 991 applications in 2002 - an increase of 13.87%.
In response to claims that the Council’s rural housing policy was too restrictive, a review of the policy was undertaken during 2003 and a committee of elected members, with the assistance of Council officials reviewed the policy. The total number of applications determined was 585, 61% of which were determined in 8 weeks. Following an agreement by the full Council the County Development Plan was amended, following a public consultation period and an amended policy was adopted by the full Council. It is considered that the new rural hosing policy will give greater clarity to those intending to apply for planning permission in rural areas.
As the growth and development of Sligo in recent years has played a key role in the economic development of the wider county and region, it was considered necessary to plan for the surrounding Environs of Sligo city alongside planning for the city itself. It was therefore agreed by Sligo County Council and Sligo Borough Council to prepare a joint plan for the region to cover the period 2004-2010.
Following a two year statutory process involving public consultation and a number of Council meetings in both authorities the plan was jointly adopted by the members of Sligo County Council and Sligo Borough Council on the 8th December 2003.
It is considered that the new Sligo and Environs plan is likely to have a significant influence on the future growth and development of Sligo and its Environs for years to come.
Emanating from the adoption of the Sligo and Environs Plan, additional studies are underway in respect of the Sligo port area and the Carraroe area for detailed master planning and improving urban designs standards which is considered to be an important exercise in implementing the Sligo and Environs Development plan.
The Strandhill Local Area plan was adopted by the elected member of the Council on the 7th July 2003, following a statutory process which commenced in November 2002.
Prior to the adoption of the plan public consultation meetings were held in Strandhill and the plan was put on public display in the Council offices and local library. Over 60 submissions were considered by the Council involving lengthy at a number of meetings in the Council chamber.
The entire production of the plan, including design and printing, was undertaken by the planning staff of the Council and this plan has provided a blueprint for the preparation of other local area plans to be prepared by the Council over the coming years.
The Strandhill plan has introduced for the first time within the county area of Sligo, the designation of zoned lands for various uses. In accordance with the Planning Acts, all applications for residential development on zoned lands must now include proposals for social and affordable housing. This will assist the Council in addressing the housing needs in Strandhill.
The preparation of a new County Development Plan 2005-2011, which commenced in May 2003, will involve a two year statutory process involving widespread public consultation.
The National Building Agency have being engaged to assist Sligo County Council with the work involved. The plan will cover the area of the county outside the borough and Environs area of Sligo City as defined in the Sligo and Environs Development Plan 2004-2010.
Over 470 local groups (including 273 sporting groups) have also being notified in writing of the new proposal and have being invited to make submissions. In addition over 400 providers of infrastructure/services have being notified in writing and invited to submit relevant information.
It is expected that a draft plan will be approved by the elected members in the spring of 2004 to enable the public consultation process to begin, in advance of the plan being adopted in 2005.
In 2003 Sligo County Council decided to prepare a Local Area Plan for Enniscrone to ensure that proper planning and sustainable development of the area. It was agreed that the plan will guide and regulate development though land use zoning measures, planning policies and development objectives. The area of the plan incorporates the townlands of Carrowhubbuck South, Carrowhubbuck North, Frankford, Trotts, Bartragh and Muckduff and includes undeveloped land around the town.
The National Building Agency was engaged by the Council to prepare this plan in collaboration with the staff of Sligo County Council. The draft plan has been put on public display, and following consideration by the elected members of submissions from the public it is expected that the plan will be adopted in early 2004.
Regional planning guidelines have being prepared for the Border Region to establish a planning framework for future County Development Plans. The guidelines will address major infrastructure requirements in growing a Gateway City for Sligo and the connected rural areas.
Mr Brendan Carolan, Senior Planner with Sligo County Council acted as chair of the Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal planning committee of the Border Region, and the committee has made a submission to be included in the Guidelines. A publication “Draft Regional Guidelines implementing the National Spatial Strategy” is expected to be published in early 2004 and is intended for adoption during that year.
In an effort to provide improved service to customers attending the Planning Department, improvements were carried out to the public counter area to provide more privacy for applicants and their agents. In addition it is hoped to improve the processing of planning applications to speed up the process, leading to earlier decisions. In the coming year it is also intended to have active consultation with planning agents and to address areas of concern and difficulties. It is also intended to implement a more structured approach for pre-planning enquiries.
In November 2003 a pre-planning clinic for customers was provided in the one-stop shop in Tubbercurry to service the Tubbercurry electoral area. An area planner attends the “clinic” between 10 and 1pm each Tuesday and is available for pre-planning advice and consultation. This new service has being provided in addition to the planning clinics already established at County Hall, Riverside on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
While the process of Better Local Government was being considered local Authorities reviewed their enforcement procedures and practices.
Sligo County Council decided to establish an ‘Enforcement’ Section to concentrate solely on this new body of work. It was of critical importance that the new section was not assumed into a larger service area - quite often in a busy service area, the urgent gets done at the expense of sometimes more important items.
In setting up the Enforcement Section, it was recognised by the management of the Council that most people, including developers, try their best to comply with the law. This was reflected in the policy adopted by the policy adopted by the SPC with responsibility in this area, which set out that every effort would be made to resolve problems by agreement in the first instance, rather than by recourse to legal action.
Cllr Patsy Barry, Chair of the SPC on Planning, Environment and Emergency Services, is ‘delighted that the staff in the enforcement section have been so successful and I want in particular to compliment them on the even-handed and considered fashion in which they have dealt with the often difficult cases that come their way.’
One of the main aims of enforcement section was to change the culture that existed, particularly in relation to breaches in planning law, and to create an awareness that unauthorised development was unacceptable and would not be tolerated by the Council. At this time there are also a number of other developments that have to be altered in order to comply with the Planning and Development requirements.
While members of the team might be forgiven for having have some reservations about working in a section with the ominous title of ‘Enforcement’, this is certainly not the case. The Staff ensure that every effort is made to deal with people in a fair, impartial and considered manner. The area of work can be quite complex, but the existence of a multi-disciplinary team, and the inclusion of all team members in the decision making process, provide the foundation for balanced decision making.
In the preparation of its Operational Plan for 2003, the Enforcement Team identified the question of access for people with disabilities as a priority and steps have been taken to increase compliance with the building regulations in this area - for instance, one licensed premises in Sligo town is re-designing the layout of its premises to make it accessible to people with disabilities, and in particular to provide wheelchair access. One important facet of the job is that of educating the general public as to their obligations in terms of planning. It is the fervent hope of the people working in Enforcement Section that they will perform this role so well, they may ultimately do themselves out of a job.