Laois council ‘trapped’ with banks and builders

The Chairman of Laois County Council has claimed that the council fell into the same trap as banks and builders when it came to overzoning land for houses during the boom.

The Chairman of Laois County Council has claimed that the council fell into the same trap as banks and builders when it came to overzoning land for houses during the boom.

A planning review of the country’s 34 City and County Council revealed this week that Laois is in the top five local authorities for overzoning lands in the country. The report from An Taisce reveals that there was between 1,500 and 2,000 hectares zoned for residential use in 2010/11. County councils are responsible for the zoning of land on the advice of management and professional planners. Laois also had the fourth highest capacity of undeveloped zoned lands.

Defending the council’s record, Cllr John Bonham said the council were responding to a need from developers that in reality was not there.

“At the time there was builders left, right and centre looking for land to build on. We all thought it was going to last - everyone fell into the same trap, the council, builders and the banks.

“There was a lot of demand for land, and the council were responding to a need or a want that in reality wasn’t really there,” he said.

The county manager Peter Carey was unavailable for comment but the council dezoned land around the council in its new County Development Plan.

Laois’s performance over the last 11 years saw them ranked mid table in the An Taisce report which was released on Monday. The county was 15th out of the 34 and received a ‘D’ grade for their efforts. Neighbouring counties Offaly and Kildare were ranked higher, while Carlow and Kilkenny fell below Laois.

Councils were ranked on the amount of zoned land as a percentage of population, last year, decisions reversed or confirmed by An Bord Pleanala from 2005 -2010. Other factors included the percentage of vacant housing stock in 2011, the change in vacant housing stock over a five year period from 2006 to 2011, water quality, the percentage of one-off houses permitted from 2001 to 2011 and legal proceedings commenced following non-compliance with enforcement notice from 2005 to 2010.

No council scored an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade with just four councils scoring a ‘C’ grade. Laois was one of the overwhleming majority of councils who scored an ‘D’ grade or worse. The report states that enforcement is the weakest link in the weak Irish planning system, and this was one area where Laois performed poorest. Out of the 34 councils, Laois had the fourth lowest percentage of prosecutions initiated following a failure to comply over a four year period from 2005-2009.

But there were some positives for the county - Laois County Council had granted less than 20% of one off houses as a proportion of their total housing units over the period of the report. One of the lowest in the country. Just 10% of their housing stock was vacant in 2011 compared with over 30% in Leitrim who topped the table.