It took a divisive vote to clear the way for six new houses planned for Mountmellick.
While the vote itself was divisive it was also decisive at 12 to 7 in favour of the six new maisonettes to be provided by the Council adjacent to the Silverwood estate in the town. But it has also left a bad taste.
Residents of Silverwood had lodged over 40 objections against the proposal to provide 6 two-bed, single-storey maisonette style homes on a site next to their properties.
They found an ally in local councillor Paddy Bracken who led the charge at the Council meeting in robustly challenging the Council’s plans to proceed with the new houses. A small group of residents from the area attended in the public gallery while the matter was being debated in the run up to the vote.
The Council’s senior planners and management team sought the approval of the elected members to proceed with the six houses, which they indicated in the course of the discussion would most likely be suitable for senior citizens or those with disabilities. They also underscored the need for this type of housing unit to cater for the profile of those on the housing list.
However, Cllr Paddy Bracken was having none of it.
He vehemently opposed the new houses claiming they were unsuitable and unwarranted in this location. He said the Council itself had ownership of a more appropriate site nearby which could accommodate as many maisonettes as they required, “6, 10 or 20, the Council has ample other land near this location.”
It was his view that this six house development “would destroy the area” on the residents who had lived in the private Silverwood estate for the past 18 to 19 years. He also claimed it would take an important green space away from these families, which was used for their children to play safely, within their view.
On the latter point, local authority officials were quick to scotch the contention that they were moving to build on a green space. They reminded councillors that it was not a green space, that it was in fact private property which had been fenced off and was zoned residential by the elected members themselves in the local area development plan.
Notwithstanding this clarification and while Cllr Bracken was at pains to state categorically that he was not opposing social housing and had never done so, it was merely down to what he deemed to be an absolutely unsuitable site on this occasion.
He received the full backing of all his Fianna Fáil counterparts, who spoke up on his behalf, voicing their opposition. They voted accordingly with the entire FF group voting en bloc against approving the six maisonettes. Cllr Bracken also secured the support of the Independent councillor, Ollie Clooney.
Cllr Bracken went so far as to say that the proposed housing complies with no planning regulations at all and that while he was not opposing social housing there was no justification whatsoever for this development.
Nevertheless other councillors were clear in their support for what they deemed to be badly needed housing and the plan was proposed and seconded by Cllrs Thomasina Connell and Mary Sweeney. Cllr Connell is also chair of the local authority Strategic Policy Committee on Housing.
But Cllr Bracken took umbrage at what he saw as the lack of support from other councillors from his municipal district and he abhorred the interference of others from outside the area.
“I’m disgusted to see this proposed and seconded by councillors outside of the area as it will have a devastating effect on the 66 private housing development which were purchased at the height of the boom,” stated Cllr Bracken, who contended that this would devalue the existing homes.
“We’re going to destroy this area, what we’re doing as a Council is all wrong, it’s immoral; we’re going to spend €2m to destroy this neighbourhood, it’s a scandal to destroy this area when we have ample zoned land adjacent to build as many houses as we want,” he contended. Cllr Bracken observed that there were already over 360 houses in the immediate vicinity.
His Fianna Fáil colleague from Rosenallis, Cllr Seamus Mc Donald spoke up in full support of Cllr Bracken stance before the vote. So too did Cllrs Padraig Fleming and John Joe Fennelly. They cited the loss of the green space and the adjacent land in the Council’s ownership as their grounds.
Senior Council personnel including the top planner, Angela McEvoy; Director of Services for Housing, Michael Rainey and the Chief Executive, John Mulholland all spoke in favour of the housing and set out the grounds for its need, justification and appropriateness.
They reiterated its suitability and how it represented proper planning and sustainable development as well as value for money in the acquisition of a site which was never open space green area and always zoned residential. The proposal is in keeping with the Council’s stated strategic priorities on housing and was much needed social housing which stood on its merits. They said that the councillors had been appraised at all times in a fully transparent process and none of this could have come as a surprise to anyone.
In the heel of the hunt the development was approved on a vote by the vote of 12 to 7, passed with the support of all the Fine Gael councillors along with Sinn Féin, (Dwane and Mullins); Labour (Tuohy) and Independents (Kelly and Brennan), while voting against were all of Fianna Fáil and Independent Cllr Clooney.