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Government's new national development plan slammed

14th February 2018

OPPOSITION politicians in Offaly have strongly condemned the Government's new national development plan.

Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen said the Government had made a "dog's dinner" of the plan while Cllr John Leahy, Renua Ireland, claimed rural Ireland is being "discriminated against".

The National Planning Framework maps out State spending and planning across the country up to 2040.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and leading ministers defended the plan on Monday in advance of its official release following intense opposition from a range of interest groups.

Critics of the plan believe it emphasises the development of Dublin and other cities at the expense of towns and rural Ireland.

Deputy Cowen, Fianna Fail's spokesman on housing, said: "It’s all very well planning for Ireland’s needs in urban centres for 2040 but it should not be instead of or at the neglect of rural Ireland. Whether Leo realizes it or not rural Ireland is a central part of our country and they will not accept nor should they be asked to be treated like an add on or second tier of our society."

The Offaly TD added: "The national Plan should include a sustainable plan for all regions and include at the very least a commitment to access to public transport services, broadband and improved roads funding thus improving linkages within their region."

He said there has to be "less detachment from reality".

"It’s all very well planning for 2040 but government investment at the moment is not sufficient to meet current demographic needs in road or broadband infrastructure - just look what happened last week which will automatically result in a further five-year delay at least on delivering broadband to 700,000 current homes in rural Ireland. Regions have already published their plans so it’s a case of putting the cart before the horse," said Deputy Cowen.

Cllr Leahy, leader of Renua, called for "a policy of positive discrimination in favour of the countryside’’ and spoke of a "gathering revolt" against the Government plan.

"Rural Ireland now needs a political enforcer," declared the Kilcormac councillor.

"The Dublin mandarin and political elite has failed rural Ireland for decades," he added.

"We need a minister who specifically protects rural Ireland at the cabinet table and that minister should be the Tanaiste.

"Obviously, we don’t want the current Tanaiste to take on the job, but we are hopeful Fine Gael can find someone somewhere in their ranks who knows something about rural Ireland and might be effective."

He said the "enforcer" would prioritise "the right of rural people to build homes on their ancestral lands", broadband, primary care centres, community creches, and the creation of jobs and "opportunity".

"Chasing criminals out of the country," should be another priority, said |Cllr Leahy, along with tourism development, and the creation of a "rural Ireland equivalent of the IDA" for investment hubs across the Border Midlands region.

"Councils should also be given responsibility to ensure that a ‘jobs first’ policy is provided and followed in areas such as local rates, water charges and the completion of ultra-fast fibre broadband networks encompassing all major towns and villages," said Cllr Leahy.

"This government may have forgotten rural Ireland. But Renua Ireland can assure them that rural Ireland hasn’t forgotten them," the councillor concluded.

The IFA accused the Government of failing rural Ireland and said the plan is "Dublin-centric".

The IFA environment chairman Thomas Cooney said the National Planning Framework does not address the decline of rural towns and villages, the need to rebalance development towards the regions, the need for rural housing, and does not support "community based renewable energy development".

The farmers' association has appealed for incentives for new business start-ups, including exemptions from rates, a period of relief from capital gains tax, double tax relief on rental expenditure in towns and villages, and further planning measures to encourage development in town and village centres.

There must be access to high-speed fibre broadband to every home, school and business in rural Ireland, regardless of location, the IFA added.

To support farm-sale and community based renewable energy production the IFA proposes that the Government introduces statutory legislation placing legal set-back distances for renewable projects from sensitive properties, including family homes, schools and villages.

A national planning policy must be developed for community energy projects, which facilitates renewable projects that have community participation, farm scale and roof-mounted projects, the association added.

Similar to other EU Member States, farm scale and roof-top renewable projects should be exempt from planning requirements.

The IFA said the absence of policy direction on renewable energy planning policy in the draft plan must be addressed in the final plan, to provide the necessary assurances and certainty for farmers and the wider rural community.

Concluding, Mr Cooney said, “Government must review the existing draft plan and achieve the rural-proofing of policy they aspire to and deliver a truly National planning framework for the next two decades which is about more than Dublin.”

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