A PROPOSAL by Cork County Council to amend the Bantry Local Area Plan, in order to facilitate retail development within the town, is being challenged on the basis that it has not been properly debated.
Bantry man, Tim Coakley, has made a submission as part of the Council’s public consultation process, in which he claims the proposed amendments ‘amount to a substantial alteration of the existing plan in terms of land use and general retail policy.’
He said the amendments raise questions about the adequacy of the original plan and the extent to which it failed to provide a workable solution for retail in the town, as well as raising ‘the issue of public trust in the ability of planners to get it right this time.’
When the subject of the amendments was first raised at a meeting of the West Cork Municipal District, Padraig Moore of the Planning Policy Unit claimed that a decision, last year by An Bord Pleanála to turn down planning permission for the railway site, adjacent to the harbour – despite planning permission being granted by Cork County Council – had left people ‘aghast.’
Mr Moore suggested that the amendments would facilitate the development of retail in the most appropriate sites, as close as possible to the centre of the town.
But, in his submission, Mr Coakley said the proposed amendment could be ‘construed as an attempt to circumvent the decision of An Bord Pleanala and smooth the way for future consideration of the same or similar developments.’
This, he said, ‘raises questions of public trust in the planning system and points to a continuing tendency of planners and public representatives to manoeuvre the planning process in favour of a particular desired result.’
Mr Coakley acknowledged that Bantry is ‘seriously deficient in retail competition and not retail space’ but he questioned whether this deficiency could be rectified by changing the town plan to allow retail development in the harbour area.
‘Retailing in Bantry,’ he added, ‘is currently determined to a large degree by restrictive practice based on a stranglehold of property ownership.’
This, he added, ‘maintains an unhealthy and uncompetitive retail environment, blocks investment by competitors and frustrates the common good.’