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Draft Westport plan signals many changes

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Westport Development plan

Draft Westport plan signals many changes

The Westport Town and Environs Draft Development Plan is now on  display, and people are being urged to examine the documents and maps, and make submissions on the proposal

Neill O’Neill

FOR the ordinary punter on the streets of Westport, it may not be the most engaging of topics, but the reality is that the Westport Development Plan, which went on public display last week, charts the immediate future of the town
A statutory document which must be reviewed and prepared by every planning authority every six years, there are several significant changes in the new draft plan, and while many will be welcomed, there are some which will cause major concerns locally.
So far there have been very few submissions made on the plan, and according to Councillor Declan Dever, people should be aware of the issues and make their concerns known as soon as possible. The plan will remain on public display until May 12 next, at which time it will be too late to make submissions or have alterations considered as part of the plan.
Among the most important facets of the 72 plus page document are:

Perhaps the most contentious issue is the de-zoning of land which was previously zoned for residential development near Westport. This is happening in dispersed places to the west of the town, but perhaps more prominently to certain plots of land on the east side of Westport – just off the Lodge Road. The lands in question were purchased primarily for their development potential several years ago, and will be significantly devalued by the decision to change their zoning designation, which is seen as a hammer blow to the landowners in question in what are trying economic times.

Colonel’s Wood
Up to two thirds of Colonel’s Wood – which flanks the Carrowbeg River from the Viaduct on Altamont Street back to the railway bridge on the Ballinrobe Road – has been zoned as ‘Tourism/Amenity’. The objective of this land zoning is to provide for small scale tourism accommodation, and general amenity uses such as walking trails, seating areas, information boards and scouts /girl guides dens are open to consideration for both tourist and local use.
However, this zoning may yet become a talking point as Westport Town Council are in negotiations with Coillte – the semi-state commercial entity who own the woods – about a plan for how to develop the area, which many people now feel is in a neglected state. The land use matrix in the draft plan permits the development of holiday homes on land zoned ‘Tourism/Amenity’, and Coillte have previously proposed the building of such homes in Colonel’s Wood, a move that was resisted by members of the local authority. According to Westport Town Manager, Mr Peter Hynes, there are several months of discussions left to have with Coillte, but there are some fears locally that this zoning will pave the way for the woods to be developed as a holiday village.

Protected structures

Westport urban area currently has 77 protected structures and 50 recorded monuments, but the draft plan proposes 152 additions to this list, some of which have annoyed homeowners who are being told that a preservation order now applies to their homes, and in some cases both inside and out. Councillor Declan Dever has called on people who have concerns about this to make representations to local councillors and submissions to the town council, before it is too late.
Also relevant here is that there is no provision to include the Bank of Ireland garden on the list of protected structures. Calls for this to happen were the subject of many of the submissions received in the early stages of drafting this plan.

It is estimated that the population of Westport will increase to approximately 8,770 persons by 2016, the end of the plan period. According to the plan there are approximately 1771 households in Westport and its Environs, with 743 family units residing in the area. The Census of Population 2006 recorded the population of ‘Westport Urban’ as 5,163 persons, and the population of ‘Westport Environs’, as defined by the Central Statistics Office, as 312 persons. The population of Westport Environs, as defined in the proposed plan area, has been estimated as 957 persons, which gives a total population of 6432 persons living in the area covered by the draft plan.

Currently, there are approximately 345 hectares (852.5 acres) of undeveloped lands within the town council boundary, and a further 339 hectares (838 acres) of undeveloped lands between the town council boundary and the draft plan boundary. It is estimated that 100 hectares (220 acres) of land is required for residential development until 2019. Included in this, 100 hectares is an allowance for a 50 per cent over-zoning to provide for a situation where lands may not be available for development. The draft plan has zoned 120 hectares (287.5 acres) for residential development, adding a further 20 per cent to the required total.
The settlement strategy for this draft plan is to:
>    Direct high density residential development in town core area.
>    Permit pockets of lower density development or increase residential unit sizes around the town core area to attract families into town.
>    Encourage the concept of sustainable neighbourhoods at identified locations such as Cloonmonad, Tubberhill and Altamont Street.
>    Permit lower density development in outer edge of urban area at serviced locations, designed in a manner that the lands can be further developed beyond the plan period, if necessary.

The Residential zoning has been broken down into three categories; Residential (High Density), up to 12 residential units per acres, Residential (Medium Density), eight units per acre, Residential (Low Density), three units per acre. The site of the old Portwest factory on the Castlebar Road has been rezoned as Residential High Density.

Town Centre expansion
The plan also specifically zones a tranche of land between the top of High Street going in the direction of the Leenane Road as ‘Extension of Town Centre’ –  and the objective of this is to facilitate the expansion of the existing town centre area. The is a new addition on previous plans and the long-term vision is that this area will be subject to a particular type of development which will build the area up so that it essentially becomes an extension of the streetscape of the town. This has already happened along Altamont Street and on Tubber Hill  in recent years, and this area remains the only non-built-up approach to Westport Town.

Westport Quay
The draft plan appears to open the way for rejuvenation at Westport Quay, in that it zones the entire area between The Pond and The Point as ‘Marine Related Tourism’. Land uses generally permitted in this zone include tourist accommodation, open space, small scale retail units for the sale of marine related goods, sailing club, restaurants, public houses, marina, pontoons, moorings, boat yards, bathing facilities, public utilities, parking, information boards and sporting and leisure facilities. The council, as well as local people, have a vision for the development of this part of Westport, and this zoning marks a significant step in facilitating the future development of the entire Quay area.

Other Key Changes
According to the plan ‘it is imperative the lands around the existing post-primary schools in Westport are reserved for educational purposes’ in order to allow expansion of such schools as required, while the convent site on Altamont Street, acquired by the council last year, will be zoned ‘Institution/Community Facilities/Offices’. This is to provide for a mix of uses within the town centre with emphasis on the provision of civic offices and public services and other compatible uses.
Westport House is being dealt with separately under the ‘Westport House & Demesne Masterplan’, which has yet to be presented to the Council for approval, but aims to facilitate appropriate development of the historical estate while ensuring its viability and conservation. There is also provision for the protection of trees in various parts of Westport and for the protection of many of the views from the area’s roads, all the main roads into town themselves, and the Carrowbeg River.
According to the plan the total area of retail floor space in Westport is 16,090m.sq, and the recent granting of planning permission for a large mixed development at Monamore meets the town’s current and future retail warehousing needs.