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Ennis: "Some of the most senseless zoning excesses of Celtic Tiger"

Co Clare farmer sold 48 acres for €18.8m – but it was located on a flood plain. But Ennis wasn’t the only place where there were attempts to build on floodplains…

Flooding in Co Galway in 2009.
Flooding in Co Galway in 2009.
Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire

THE HERITAGE WATCHDOG An Taisce takes a number of local authorities to task in its report today on bad planning decisions across the nation in the Celtic Tiger years.

One of the areas it cites as “an example of some of the most senseless zoning excesses of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ era” is Ennis, Co Clare. The body found that almost 4,500 acres of land was zoned for development – had this all happened it would have increased the population of the town from 26,000 to over 100,000 people.

An Taisce singles out one case for special mention: that of a local farmer who managed to sell zoned land for €18.8m. However, the buyers of the land were subsequently turned down for planning permission after it was established that the land was on a flood plain. Even with this discovery, An Taisce, notes…

Despite the fact that Ennis was one of the worst affected areas by flooding in 2009, and that the town only needed a maximum of 175 acres, the Department of the Environment encountered significant difficulties from local councillors in seeking to get this land de-zoned.

The farmer in question who became a multi-millionaire overnight from the sale of his land was JJ McCabe from Clarecastle. The 48 acres he sold, near the new motorway outside Ennis, were bought by Galway-based Harmack Developments. Their plan to build a retail park on the site were thwarted when an environmental impact assessment found that the land was built on a floodplain. However, as seen in the report from An Taisce quoted in the preceding paragraph, it took the Department of the Environment some time to dissuade local councillors from allowing the land to remain zoned for development.

McCabe stood for election as an independent candidate in the General Election last year (and was eliminated on the second count in the Clare constituency). He had previously stood in four local elections in 1991, 1999, 2004 and 2009, each time as an independent candidate. On launching his campaign last year, McCabe told his local paper, The Clare Champion, that he planned to create jobs by opening a wood processing plant and four offices, one each in Kilrush, Ennistymon, Ennis and Scariff.

He voiced criticism of An Taisce during one of those local election campaigns – in 2009 – after that body’s calls for a reduction in use of Shannon Airport for environmental concerns. He described An Taisce on a ClareFM interview as “enemies of society”.

The Ennis example aside, the An Taisce report pinpoints repeated floutings of flood risk management guidelines in developments during the Noughties.

Read the full report here>

One proposed development challenged by An Taisce because it was built on a floodplain was a mixed-use development with 39 apartments that was to lie on the Kincha Road, Gort, Co Galway. An Taisce said the area was prone to regular flooding from the river Gort. A few months after the planning permission for that development was overturned, in June 2009, the area flooded and turned into a “17-acre lake”.

Here are some other developments challenged and overturned after complaints that they were to be built on flood plains:

(via An Taisce)

The recommendation from this report is that councils must move “to urgently de-zone flood-prone lands”. The report says:

Failure to do so will mean that the ultimate costs will be transferred to society at large.

Read: The 9 worst councils in Ireland’s planning system>

See: Ireland is Crap at Planning Map of the Day>

Read: The full An Taisce State of the Nation: Planning System report>

Read: How to prevent corruption in the future>

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