YEARS of out of control planning are having a devastating impact on Kerry’s vital tourism industry and the repercussions will be felt for years to come, that’s according to a senior figure within Kerry County Council’s Planning Department.
Kerry currently has 35,000 one-off houses, an average of seven one-off houses per kilometre of road, and Senior Planning Engineer Paul Stack says this is having a serious knock-on effect on the county’s top money earner.
“Eighty percent of the visitors to County Kerry come here for the quality of the landscape and the unspoilt scenery and we have destroyed it in parts of this county,” Mr Stack told the Killarney Area Council meeting last week in an emotional address to local councillors.
The engineer was responding to sharp criticisms from councillors after planning was refused for an undisclosed house that would have been granted five years previous.
Cllr Danny Healy Rae said the restrictions on applicants from towns and villages was undemocratic, while Cllr Marie Moloney lambasted the ‘ townland rule’ labelling it a dictatorship and suggested that it be a made a parish rule at the very least. Cllr Michael Gleeson also highlighted the absurdity of the rule, stating that there were four townlands located within 800 metres of Killarney council chambers.
A council engineer with 30 years’ experience, Mr Stack recently rejoined the Planning Department after a 14 year break and says he was shocked at the extent of the problem. He also compared the county to other competing destinations in England, Scotland and Wales.
“I couldn’t believe what I came back to, planning went out of control. It’s like the Celtic Tiger, we knew we were wrong and we kept going. We are destroying our county with one-off houses and people are now suffering for the sins of others.
“I drove around areas such as The Cotswolds and to see the tourism product they have in comparison to what we have done to our tourism product is embarrassing and upsetting. I feel very strongly about this,” he added.
Mr Stack said that the problem has raised concerns in Europe and warned that councillors need to cater for the common good rather than pander to the individual planning requests of their constituents.
“The County Development plan is history – this is national, it’s European. Europe has spotted what we have been doing, we have been out of control. The end result is that Europe has given us guidelines and directives and all sorts of memorandums and statutory instruments.
“This is the biggest subject that’s in front of you as councillors and it’s the one that’s causing the most difficulty but you’ve got to see the bigger picture. You are being bombarded on your doorsteps by an individual but the common good is the responsibility of me as a member of the executive.
“We are trying to hold onto the ability to grant planning permission for people who are born and reared on the land but that may be impacted on going forward because of what we have done in the granting of one-off housing and the impact of that on our environment, our infrastructrure and our water.”
The engineer added that there had been “incredible damage” caused as the vast majority of the terrain in Kerry was not suitable for on-site effluent disposal and he pointed to the fact that two million gallons of effluent a day flows into groundwater.
“There is no system out there that can treat effluent satisfactorily in the context of the topography that exists in County Kerry,” he added.
– KEVIN HUGHES firstname.lastname@example.org