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Are we the planning authority or is it the NPWS? – Cllr Coyle

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Áine Ryan

“ARE we the planning authority or is it the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Services)? What has gone on in Erris is shameless.” These comments were made by Erris-based Cllr Gerry Coyle (FG) during a heated debate on planning restrictions for one-off housing in the rural areas of the West Mayo Municipal District.  
Speaking at last week’s meeting of West Mayo Municipal District, councillors roundly  criticised recent restrictions imposed on their rights to discuss individual cases at meetings.
“I can see where houses were built on top of hills where locals were refused planning permission,” Cllr Coyle said.
Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Paul McNamara argued that Mayo County Council was ‘driving everything into urban areas’.
“Planning isn’t solely to blame for why rural Ireland is in decline, but it has contributed to it. Planning permission is the first obstacle people are faced with when making a decision to move into rural Ireland,” Cllr McNamara said.
He reiterated the fact that councillors have not been able to discuss refusals by the executive for the last three months.
Agreeing, Cllr Christy Hyland said: “The economy is turning but people cannot still buy a site because they are not from the area and will not get planning permission because they weren’t born within three kilometres of the site.”
“It is soul-destroying for people who want to move west,” said Cllr Teresa McGuire (FG). “I am a principal of a school and would love to see lots of houses being built and my school filling up with children, but every obstacle is being put in the way of this happening.
“Truly, as councillors we are failing  people by not fighting for this, while mindful of all the bad planning that went on in the past.”
Cathaoirleach Brendan Mulroy agreed, noting that ‘the planning process in the past must have been a litany of abuses, but [punishment for] that should not be imposed on us’.
Speaking again on the matter, Cllr McNamara said the members should ‘call on our TDs and senators to see if we can work our way forward’ while also seeking a legal opinion.
Putting it in context, Cllr Michael Holmes, who had opened this debate, said that: “Back to the N59 – it is hard to believe that from the time you leave Bangor and drive to Leenane, no house would be allowed to be built along the roadside now.”  
Director of Services, Catherine McConnell said that ‘any member is still free to attend the SPC for planning and represent any applicant in the context of a planning application’.

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