Leitrim is in the middle of making its Plan
The making of the Council Development Plan is one of the most important functions of the County Councillors as responsibility for making the Plan, including the various policies and objectives contained within it, rests with the elected members as a reserved function under section 12 of the Act.
Because Leitrim is targeted for unconventional gas exploration using hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the making of the County Development Plan 2015 – 2021 is of great interest to GEAI, other organisations campaigning against fracking, and the wider public.
It is vital that the section on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction reflects the concerns of the public concerning unconventional gas developments. The Councillors have been advised by the officials that a simple ban on fracking cannot be put into the Development Plan; this is being disputed, especially as Donegal County Councillors have already inserted a ban in their Plan. Advice given to the council is that a ban can be overturned by the Minister. Also, the case of Mayo County Council is also quoted, where a judge ruled against a blanket ban on mining.
GEAI considers that, whether or not a ban on fracking is specifically included in the Development Plan, it is essential to also include some very strong policies to safeguard Leitrim communities from fracking. Such processes as Health Impact Assessment and the application of the Precautionary Principle can be used to prevent short-term proposals to exploit shale gas, causing contamination of our air and waters and damaging the health of people and animals.
Leitrim County Councillors have a difficult task ahead of them. The section on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Extraction must satisfy the public’s need for protection from the environmental and social damage caused by unconventional gas development while “taking on board and implementing relevant national and regional policies” (see below).
WE WISH THEM EVERY SUCCESS IN THIS ENDEAVOUR!
Progress of the Plan is as follows:
The Plan is at first draft stage – the officials have produced a first draft which can be considered and amended by the Councillors, but must be voted on by mid-January.
Late January ’14:
Officials prepare draft with amendments
Draft goes for public consultation, submissions invited from public (10 weeks)
Officials prepare Managers Report on any submissions or observations
Councillors consider Managers Report. Councillors may accept or amend the draft.
Advertise any material alteration of draft
Submissions on material alterations invited. (4 weeks)
New Manager’s Report prepared
Councillors consider Manager’s Report
January ‘15: Plan published.
BACKGROUND TO THE COUNTY DEVELOPMENT PLAN
The Department of Environment “Guidelines for Planning Authorities, June 2007” provides a good overview of the purpose of the Development Plan and the role of elected members and Local Authority officials. The following gives short snapshots of some content of interest to us:
Role of Development Plan
“The plan creates the vision for the area it covers, specifies the type, amount and quality of development needed to achieve that vision and seeks to protect and enhance the environment and amenities.”
Role of members (Councillors):
“Members must have an active and driving role in the entire process, from its inception to its finalisation. They must listen to and take account of the views and wishes of the communities they represent. They must adopt the development plan at the end of the process. ..Crucially, there is an onus on elected members and the executive to fulfil their responsibilities and functions in the common interest, adhering to proper planning principles and facilitating the sustainable development of their area.”
Supporting National Policies
“Development Plans should take on board and implement relevant national and regional policies in a manner consistent with the NSS and regional guidelines if the planning system as a whole is to function effectively. The Development Plan must be part of a systematic hierarchy of land use and spatial plans, including the National Spatial Strategy and regional planning guidelines. It must also be informed by the plans and strategies of the Government and other public agencies in general.”
“It is important that development plans fully support national policies so that all local authorities play their full part in the achievement of national objectives.”
Protecting the Environment
“The Development Plan will set out policies for the protection of the environment and heritage and is an important source of information for landowners, developers, communities and members of the public in this regard.”
“Local authorities have a key role to play in regard to preserving the natural heritage of their areas arising from the legal responsibilities placed on them and from the increasing public awareness of the importance of nature conservation at local level.”
“Sustainable development means ensuring that all development is sustainable in economic, social and environmental terms. As such, the development plan must offer clear guidance on sustainable development policies and objectives, both national and local, which address the various issues involved, such as climate change, waste management, transport, urban development, sustainable communities, use of natural resources etc.”
“Accommodating new development needs in an environmentally sustainable manner is a key way in which development plans can contribute to the achievement of sustainability.”
“Councils should also actively involve citizens in the whole process of making the plan, especially those who may not normally contribute or engage in the process. Councils should consider innovative methods to encourage as wide a public consultation as possible. It is vital that, from an early stage, as much public and political consensus is built around the strategic direction the new plan is to take.”
“While section 11(2)(c) of the Act does not specifically require the preparation of background papers at the pre-draft stage, the compilation of a single, over-arching and concise “Issues Paper” to accompany the initial notification that a new development plan is to be prepared, is strongly recommended at that stage as a means of presenting key information on strategic planning and heritage issues and inviting public submissions on differing policy approaches.”