What has happened - and what happens next?
We wrote to our local councillors last week asking for help in understanding the procedure around the passing of a Local Area Development Plan for Bray, particularly since our Town Council became a Municipal District. ...But, before we publish the answer, it might be helpful to click on the maps on the right. They are taken from the present 2011-2017 Bray Town Development Plan, and show two different kinds of zoning.
In the first, the area in blue shows the River Dargle floodplain, covering the lowlying homes of Little Bray - and the lowlying area of the golf course lands. It is zoned, correctly, as a Flood Zone A, which is described in 'The Planning System and Flood Risk Management Guidelines for Planning Authorities' as the type of zone - "where the probability of flooding from rivers and the sea is highest (greater than 1% or 1 in 100 for river flooding or 0.5% or 1 in 200 for coastal flooding)".
Yet, in the second picture, we see how this land was zoned for development in the same Plan. Zone 1 (again in blue) consists of 16.5 acres, 8.6 acres of which are floodplain (between the river and the thin black line just below the club house). This entire 16.5 acres is zoned for Town Centre development, allowing the highest density development possible.
Granted, since this Development Plan was adopted, we have had flood defences erected by the OPW. However, the same Planning and Flood Risk Management Guidelines referred to above go on to say:
"The provision of flood protection measures in appropriate locations, such as in or adjacent to [existing] town centres, can significantly reduce flood risk. However, the presence of flood protection structures should be ignored in determining flood zones. This is because areas protected by flood defences still carry a residual risk of flooding from overtopping or breach of defences and the fact that there may be no guarantee that the defences will be maintained in perpetuity."
Thus, the importance of changing the present Town Centre zoning on the 8.6 acres of floodplain in Zone 1, as this is still part of a Flood Zone designated as A, with all its dangers.
For our councillors to make that change, we have to follow the intricacies of planning, and so we are grateful to Cllr. Joe Behan, who kindly, and sensibly, sent on our request to Sorcha Walsh, a senior planner with Wicklow County Council. Ms. Walsh then came back to us with the following detailed and very helpful explanation of the procedure involved:
'The production and publication of a draft LAP [Local Area Plan] is the responsibility of the Chief Executive. The CE must prepare a draft plan in accordance with the law, Government / Ministerial requirements and having regard to proper planning and sustainable development. The CE may consult with the public and elected members prior to producing draft plan, and in this regard, we always endeavour to integrate as many of the suggestions of the public and members where possible. Please be advised that ‘Local Area Plans’ are somewhat different to ‘development plans’ (which was the format of plan that previously applied in Bray Town), in that members cannot now ‘direct’ the CE to include / exclude any particular matter in the draft plan; the CE does not require the members approval of a draft plan before it is published.
'Once a draft LAP is published, it goes on display and submissions invited for not less than 6 weeks. This is when you should make a submission if you are not happy with something in the draft plan. I cannot at this stage tell you when exactly that will be but hopefully in June – July 2017.
'After that period is over, the CE prepares a report on the submissions received and distributes that report to the elected members. In that report, all submissions are evaluated and the CE may / may not recommend amendments to the draft plan on foot of same.
'The members (being all members of the County Council) then consider the report and the Chief Executive’s recommendations. They have 6 weeks to consider the report. Sometime around the end of that 6 weeks, or whenever the members consider they have had enough time to consider the report, the matter will be put on the agenda of a full Council meeting. At that meeting, each of the Chief Executive’s recommend amendments (if any) will be considered and voted upon.
'The members may at this meeting also suggest amendments of their own, or variations to one of the Chief Executive’s recommend amendments. If any such new amendments are proposed by the members, they would also have to be voted upon by the full Council.
'The members also can only consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area in making their decisions, and any amendments passed must be consistent with the law, the County Development Plan and Government Policy / Ministerial guidelines.
'In the event that any such amendments agreed are deemed to constitute ‘material’ changes to the draft plan (e.g. a change in zoning), all amendments must be placed on public display and submissions again invited. This would be another opportunity for you to make a submission. After this display period is completed, the CE again prepares a report on the amendments and submissions received, wherein he/she may recommend making the amendment, not making the amendment, or slightly modifying the amendment.
'The members then consider this second report and the CE’s advice, and make their final decision on each amendment (they cannot re-visit anything further that was not the subject of an amendment at that stage).
'Thereafter once the decision is made on each of the amendments, the plan is adopted with those changes that have been agreed. The plan comes into effect 4 weeks after it is adopted.
'I might just advise that there is one final step – during that 4 week period, if the Minister is not satisfied with any aspect of the plan, the Minister can invoke a section of the Planning Act (Section 31) which allows him / her to direct the members that certain aspect of the adopted plan be amended or deleted if the Minister considers that that the adopted plan has not complied with certain criteria. If this Minister does not invoke this process, the plan will be deemed to come into effect at the end of the 4 week period.
'I hope this is sufficiently clear, but if not, pleased call me on 0404 20132.
'Sorcha Walsh, Senior Planner, Wicklow County Council.'
We are, at present, at the very beginning of this procedure, SWAP having made a submission in November last. We are now awaiting the production and publication of the draft Local Area Plan by the Chief Executive, "hopefully in June – July 2017".