Minister Coughlan takes on critics
In an interview with Times girl Margaret Gallagher, Minister Mary Coughlan confronted head-on the doubts expressed in national media over the weekend:
I have heard no negativity in my department - the senior civil servants will be moving. One of the main reasons for the huge negativity is the fact that main national papers had no idea that this was going to happen and, secondly, they see it as an election ploy - it isnt - we have always said in the Programme for Government we were going to decentralise. This is a great thing for Donegal - the minute Charlie McCreevy finished speaking, the phones were hopping in my department. We have a three year plan to implement this. A lot of the civil servants feel that it is very expensive to live in Dublin, most young people cant afford a car, or an apartment, education is expensive, the quality of life is horrendous. I have people in my Department who leave the house at 6 oclock in the morning and dont get into work till 8.30 - that is not a life, they leave at 4 and dont get home to 7 in the evening. There are 4,500 staff in my department and there are over 2,000 requests to transfer - so what does that say at this early stage - people want to live in the country and rear their children and have a better quality life. There is a positive buzz and anyone who doesnt want to move, there is still scope within the existing Civil Service.
The press is annoyed because they didnt get a leak - if we dont make a decision we are critised - and if we do we also are. This is the best decision ever made and the members of the opposition quietly agree.
When asked about the increased amount of travel involved, Mary answered. I am honoured to be a minister and I would be more than delighted to travel anywhere in the country.
On the lack of Green and White papers, Mary stated You dont need a green/white paper - that is only for serious policy decisions - not needed for decentralisation. A number of years ago, councils were requested to put forward proposals - and every town in every county was proposed which left it very difficult for anyone to make a decision. So this decision was based on work by higher civil servants who work in Finance and the minister himself.
Commenting on the editorial in the Sunday Business Post that concluded The government plan needs a reality check and quickly
This is reality and is what people want. I realise that some people are disappointed that their town hasnt been chosen but things have been done strategically - it will benefit all parts of the county - at the end of the day, no matter what you did you werent going to make the right decision.
Mary rubbished the Sunday Independents comment that the decision was neither workable or desirable.
It will work and it will happen, we certainly want permanent, pensionable jobs and nowhere better than the Civil Service, I think it will be a catalyst for the development of Donegal Town, socially and economically.
When questioned on the union position that Civil Servants will need extra cash to move, Mary replied No, decentralisation is going to be voluntary and it wont be on a cash basis and I dont know where this is coming from - most of the civil servants want to move.
Questioned as to where the office will be situated, Mary had this to say - I want to explain this in black and white now. The office of Public Works will determine where these offices will be located. Advertisements will be placed in papers in the very near future for proposals for provision of office accommodation, either on a straight purchase, green field space, existing premises, or Public Private Partnership - or a builder may propose a direct swop - whatever is the best deal for the department and is agreed by the Office of the Public Works.
Asked if there is any existing premises here in Donegal suitable eg Drumlonagher? Mary replied, The County Council office at Drumlonagher is packed and is due to open next year. I have absolutely no role in the decision.
Big Question - When? The first meeting of civil servants is today (Monday 8th) in my department to prepare for the implementation of the programme and I am being briefed tomorrow. Then I will be having monthly meetings until we have it all worked out. It will possibly be two years. We never thought that the Council offices would be finished in 2003 six months early. It shows that it can be done.
At 7.30 p.m. last Tuesday, a large crowd filed into the ballroom of the Abbey Hotel for a follow-up workshop on the draft Donegal Town Local Area Plan. Hosted by Community Chamber, the meeting was chaired by Denis Kelly, Area Manager, Planning & Economic Development and Catherine Crawford, Graduate Planner.
What is Local Area Plan:
The Local Area Plan will provide a blueprint for the town in terms of future growth, development, renewal and regeneration, including a boundary or development limit. It will include objectives for the zoning of land for particular purposes, provision of infrastructure and conservation of the natural and built environment. It will form the statutory basis for the consideration of planning applications within the town boundary.
Purpose of the Workshop
This workshop was a follow-up meeting to the initial consultation workshop that took place on Tuesday 10th June in the Abbey Hotel. The public called for a second meeting to ensure it is kept fully informed of the direction the plan is taking, and to guarantee a sense of local ownership of the plan. A considerable number of submissions were received, with 61 handwritten observations and many meetings with interested parties. This workshop is was an opportunity for consideration of the issues to be addressed in the emerging Local Area Plan, and to highlight any information, local knowledge or concerns which the public feel have not been acknowledged this far.
The Story So Far
400 letters were sent out to key stakeholders
32 business and 54 household questionnaires returned
69 written observations to plan
44 individual and group meetings
Elected members workshop held 17th October
Objectives of Plan
Openng the meeting, Ms. Crawford said that the blueprint is a vision for Donegal Town to promote its planned, sustained and co-ordinated growth.
This is an opportunity for the public to view the pre-draft plan and for the council to provide an assessment of draft policy said Ms. Crawford.
Debate and Opinion
The meeting then broke up into a number of workshops, each with a Council facilitator, to discuss the various points brought out in the plan and express opinions. At the end of an hour of debate and discussion, the meeting was called back into session and one person at each table was asked to express the consensus of its grouping.
Table by Table
(name after table number is the speaker for that table)
T1. Catherine Crawford Points: Lack of infastructure in town; Councillors shaping policy instead of planners and local people; Lots of land zoned in last plan still not developed- more transparency re development.
T2 Peader Thomas: Industrial zone not in right place should be on Drumlonagher side behind new council offices running towards mart; town centre choked with poor access, not suitable for development on large scale Revlin proper site for this 300/400 jobs involved.
T3 Simon Harron: Open up backlands towards river; too much commercial development around Diamond area to detriment of rest of town; importance of river and bay area as focal points in town: In favour of large retail development on towns perimeter but design guide-lines needed to preserve the historical and cultural aspects of town; developments should not be permtted to break the skyline; no multi-storey carparks.
T4 Martin McAllister: Town and area outstandingly beautiful - its character has been successfully changed over past 10 years; Council need to prepare a definitive study re parking in Donegal Town (See article below) .
T5 Neil Tee: Childcare facilities required; need to be aware of visual vulnerability of town eg. Cinema development; Industrial zoned area not in right place.
T6 Agreed with all previous speakers nothing to add.
T7 Paul Christie: If development is to take place in mart area would need link road off by-pass, as access is very difficult at moment; Strong conservation policies need to be put in place for town centre.
T8 Mark Sweeney: Again spoke of lack of childcare facilities and highlighted access and parking problems; town centre more tourist than retail need recreational facilities within this area; Must preserve green areas around town centre; Encourage large retail outside town centre; Will not get industry into town until retail issue sorted; nothing should be built at pier area that would obstruct view; knock down Court House.
T9 John Curran: Area around Craft Village should be changed to mixed use; road needed from Ardeskin to Ardchicken to open up land; Tullycullion visually vulnerable; road infrastructure plan essential; green finger walkways running through town; Bosco and track should be designated for recreational and educational use; A major upgrading of junction at West Point Villa. Questioned the criteria for moving development out of town ie. The sequential test - as described by top table.
T10 Fran Harkin: Asked the completion date for sewerage scheme; CIE should re-locate from Diamond; Need major retail to stop leakage to other towns; A lot could be done to enhance town centre.
T11 Maurice Timoney: Industrial zone not in right place; Revive vision of river walk from Magherabeg Abbey to Castle, linking with bank walk and path to Lough Eske. Town park at back of Castle; Library should be located in Town Centre.
T11 Seoirse Williamson: The town need a heavy goods vehicle stopover location.
At the end of the presentation, Denis Kelly summed up the opinions expressed and thanked all who participated in the exercise. These views, he said, would now be taken away and studied before the draft plan is placed before the elected members of the Donegal Electoral area.
The Next Steps
Following this workshop, the draft plan will be prepared. The content will be considered by the elected members of the Donegal Electoral Area and thereafter the full Council, before going on public display.
Section 20 (3) of the Planning & Development Act, 2000 requires the Draft Local Area Plan be put on public display, accessible to the general public for inspection. The legal requirements are then set in motion and the next steps are:
Minimum 6 week period for inspection of the plan and for submissions and observations to be made to the Planning Authority;
Submissions may be in the form of a written observation and/or annotated maps or photographs;
Within 12 weeks of the plan first going on display, the Manager shall submit a report on the submissions/observations to the members;
Within 6 weeks of the Managers Report being submitted to members, the Local Area Plan is deemed to be made in accordance with the recommendations of the report.
New footbridge in place connecting
Water Street with New Row
The new bridge swings into place
On Tuesday 25th November, the temporary pedestrian-bridge for Castle Street arrived, supplied by Mitchells Bridges, Winchester, England. Previously over a river in Derby, England, it arrived in Rosslare the previous Friday and was transported up on Tuesday morning. It took just three hours to unload and lay. Then some of the long-time residents of Castle Street were invited to cross.
Kevin Cory, site manager of Fox Construction, Omagh said that with the footbridge now in place, the next step was to divert existing services from the old bridge which hopefully will be taken away within the next two weeks. We started here on the 6th of October - it is a nine month contract, residents and businesses of the street have been very co-operative, we intend to keep them informed as we progress and I feel that, despite all the interruption, the new bridge will enhance the street.