During 2002, substantial progress was made with the review of the existing Development Plan for the Borough and the preparation of a new Plan for Sligo and its environs. This important body of work is being jointly undertaken by Sligo Borough and County Councils, assisted by their consultants, the National Building Agency (NBA). The planning authorities received some sixty written submissions following pre-draft consultations, which included two public events in early May. The Plan and its accompanying Retail Strategy were drafted during the Summer/Autumn period and, after formal consideration by the elected Members, were put on public display on December 2nd.
The Sligo and Environs Draft Development Plan 2004-2010 is a substantial and visionary document, which outlines a comprehensive range of policies and objectives designed to achieve a high quality living, working, investment and physical environment. The proposed development framework is set within a 20-year strategic perspective in line with the Sligo Sub-Regional Development Strategy 2001-2021, which was previously commissioned by the two planning authorities.
The timely publication of the National Spatial Strategy, in November, has confirmed Sligo’s position as a ‘gateway’ centre and provided the Borough and County Councils with a mandate to plan the ‘capital of the north-west’ in a spirit of confidence and shared purpose.
In January 2002, Sligo Borough and County Councils held a public consultation event to generate discussion and feedback on the Hazelwood-Ballinode Draft Local Area Plan. The forum was well attended and served to highlight a number of local concerns about the Plan’s provisions. It was subsequently decided to defer the statutory process and re-visit the Draft Plan when the development framework for the overall Sligo and Environs area has been agreed.
After a break of almost two-years and with new staff and IT hardware/software on board, the Development Planning Unit resumed its work on the Strandhill Local Area Plan in early 2002. The Draft Plan was completed in October, and at their November meeting, the elected Members decided to put it on public display and invite submissions and observations. At the end of November, over 100 people attended a very successful ‘community workshop’ in Strandhill, at which there was a presentation on the proposals, followed by facilitated group discussions. A high level of local interest was shown in the Draft Plan, which was designed and printed in-house and sold over 90 copies.
A total of 991 applications for planning permission were received by the Council in 2002, in comparison to 1107 applications lodged in 2001.
The Council decided a total of 973 applications in 2002, the majority of which were decisions to grant planning permission (i.e. 79%). A total of 64% of the planning applications were decided by the Council within 2 months of the receipt of application.
The Planning and Development Regulations 2001 commenced in March 2002 and introduced significant changes in the way planning applications are to be prepared and processed. As a result of these new requirements, the number of invalid planning applications increased substantially as applicants familiarised themselves with the new provisions. Among the new provisions is the requirement to pay a fee when making a submission or observation on any planning application. A primary aim of the new planning regulations is the streamlining of the planning process by the introduction of new time limits e.g. all submissions by third parties and prescribed bodies must made to the planning authority within 5 weeks of receipt of the planning application.
The development control planning areas were amended in 2002 to correspond with the four Electoral Areas. Each of these planning areas have now been allocated a planner with the responsibility for undertaking the development control duties in these areas.
The planning department encourages the public to contact the relevant planner prior to the making of a planning application with a view to explaining and resolving any likely planning issues.
Some of the major planning applications processed (or currently being processed) by Sligo County Council during 2002 include:
An Enforcement Section was put in place during the year with the brief of ensuring that the Council’s regulatory functions were enforced. Since its formation significant progress has been made.
The main areas of focus have been as follows;
During the past year there was an increased number of spot checks and a substantial improvement in the response time for dealing with complaints from members of the public. Most developers were generally compliant with the planning laws and regulations and in areas where difficulties did arise, these were generally resolved by discussions and the co-operation of the developers. It is the policy of the Council to resolve any problems or difficulties by agreement but where it is not possible to do so, all legal means available are asked to achieve compliance with the law. The planning Act 2000 has given local Authorities substantial additional powers to ensure that the planning laws are complied with.
The Council received complaints during the year in relation to 163 developments. Of these cases Warning Letters were issued in respect of 125 developments and in 75 cases (approx. 50%) the matters were resolved to the Councilís satisfaction during the year. In one case, an unauthorised structure was removed by the developer prior to court appearance. The Enforcement Section has succeeded in achieving a 100% response rate to all complaints within a period of 6 weeks, in line with the operational plan of the section and the Planning & Development Act, 2000. At the end of November 2002 a total of seven cases were referred to the Council’s Law Agent to institute appropriate legal proceedings; legal process was commenced to seek two injunctions and five prosecutions towards the end of the year. It is anticipated that an increased number of prosecutions and enforcement will take place in 2003 as the section becomes firmly established. It is hoped that there will be a reduction in the numbers of unauthorised developments in the future due to increased activities of the enforcement section and increased awareness of the need to comply with the planning code.
In order to ensure that housing developments are completed to a proper standard the amount of bonds required as security for the satisfactory completion of housing estates was increased substantially during the year. This increase was applied on the basis of experience to date in relation to existing developments and in order to ensure that sufficient monies would be available in the event of a developer failing to complete an estate to the required standard.
In accordance with the Council’s operational plan, emphasis has been placed on ensuring that developments of housing estates do not take place in the absence of security being first provided, and the Council has been successful in ensuring that all cases to date have provided the necessary security. The Council will continue to seek 100% compliance on the part of developers providing security prior to the commencement of development.
A system has been put in place during the past year to ensure that financial contributions are paid in accordance with the requirements of planning permissions granted. This system ensures that contributions are paid in all cases and where the contribution is not paid appropriate legal proceedings will be implemented. The system will be reviewed in 2003 to establish its effectiveness and full compliance by developers. Development contributions provide a vital source of funding for the provision and improvement of infrastructure and facilities throughout the county.
During 2002 five estates were recommended to the Council for taking in charge.. The appointment of an additional staff member in 2002 should enable significant progress to be made in this area and will ensure that spot-checks are carried out on housing developments during the course of construction.
The object of the Building Control Section is to encourage good building practice, to ensure that buildings are constructed correctly and that access for disabled and elderly is provided for in building plans. Inspection rates of 15% are presently being achieved in this area, which is in line with the sections operational plan. During the past year information has been supplied to all applicants and agents seeking planning permission regarding compliance with the Building Regulations. It is proposed in 2003 to pay particular attention to compliance with Part M of the Building Regulations, dealing with access for people with disabilities.
During the past year the Council identified two buildings as dangerous structures. One building was removed, the other was made safe during the year. It is the policy of the Council to take immediate action in any case where it becomes aware that a building is dangerous. Any potentially dangerous buildings that come to the Council’s attention will continue to be treated as priority.