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October 13th 2004

Councillors worry that one new retail site would draw business from
centre of town
So they vote for two!

By Margaret Gallagher

We were three hours into the meeting when submission no. 35 was reached at around 5.30pm. Fatigue had set into a chamber, the majority of whose members had been in session since early morning.
We had arrived in Lifford at 2pm to attend the debate on the Donegal Town Plan that would determine the development strategy of this area for the next six years. Fifty-eight submissions had been entered, and with detailed precision, each one had to be read, proposed and seconded - overturned - or debated and amended, with possibly a vote to carry. It was mind-numbing stuff – especially for councillors from outside the area who, throughout the meeting, vociferously made known their feelings that the plan should have been discussed and decided at a local level.
But, as the chair made clear, these were decisions that had to be taken by the chamber as a whole and, like it or not, the 28 councillors present had to pay full attention in order to decide the future of an area many of them know little about.
So there we were, council officials and management raised on high, 28 players on the floor, spectators in their seats - and press crowded in at the back ready to record decisions that would determine the future of Donegal Town for the next six years. There followed a relentless progression of readings by Francie Coyle, Director of Services, Planning and Economic Development, with frequent interjections by councillors Kennedy, O’Neill, Boyle and Pringle, the content of which usually determined the fate of the submission.
That is until the contentious one arrived. The hands of the clock had now passed 5.30pm when number 35 was called. It concerned a change in designation of land at the Mullans from ‘edge of centre’ to ‘core retail’.
Consisting of approx 16 acres, this land derives its importance from its proximity to the western edge of town and its border with three roads, including the by-pass.
In a surprise move, 8.1 acres of this was recently purchased by Christopher Bennett in what was seen as a direct challenge to a local consortium, Keeney Construction, which had acquired a similar sized site at the Mart, following a vote by shareholders last February. Both the Mart and Mullans are vying to house Donegal Town’s first retail multiple i.e. Tesco or a Dunnes Stores - and each knows the importance of being first off the starting line.

Hence the showdown at late noon in the council chamber...

When we arrived in Lifford hours earlier, the place was buzzing with rumours of meetings that had taken place previously in the day. Word was that the whip was out at the Fianna Fail caucus and the party was to vote en-bloc for the change.
This was to be opposed by the Fine Gael councillors who were backing the county manager’s assertion ‘that this site is too far removed from the centre of town to be considered ‘core retail’’.
After Mr Coyle read in the submission, Cllr Peter Kennedy, backing it, proposed that the site be re-zoned ‘core retail’ – this was opposed by Cllr. Barry O’Neill, who urged that the designation remain ‘edge of centre’.
Back and forth the acrimonious debate raged, with accusation and counter- accusation ringing across the room, Cllr Kennedy claiming “the future of Donegal Town is at stake” and Cllr O’Neill stating that his remit was to save the town centre from rampant developers seeking to build on peripheral sites. Cllr O’Neill also drew attention to a letter from Lynn Temple sent to all councillors, requesting that retail development in town be from the centre out.

Continued on right:

Inver parties as Mary returns triumphant

New Minister for Agriculture receives her

wellies at Milltown reception

Marina Gaffney presents Mary with a pair of important accessories for the job

Photo by Jason McGarrigle

Mary Coughlan returned in triumph to her South Donegal constituency after becoming the first woman in the history of our state to be appointed Minister for Agriculture. As her Merc pulled into the Milltown Bar, Mary was mobbed by enthusiastic well-wishers waiting to celebrate a memorable week in the political career of the Inver girl.
First elected to the Dail in 1987, Mary was Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands from 2001 to 2002, before being appointed to her first cabinet post as Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs in June 2002.
Mary relishes the challenge ahead “I look forward with enthusiasm to grasping the opportunity this important ministry presents and to working with all the farm organisations, and agriculture, food and consumer groups to ensure the prosperity and long-term viability of Ireland’s prime industry”.
However as Mary celebrated, the future was looking bleaker for Dr James McDaid who was dropped as Minister of State at the department of Transport. The Donegal North East TD had two years previously lost his job in the cabinet as Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation.
Dr McDaid declaring himself ‘devastated’ said this was the lowest point in his political career. “I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed - I don’t think I deserved it, I don’t think I did anything wrong. The Taoiseach said I resigned, but I didn’t - I was sacked’
Indeed an emotional Dr McDaid was reputed to have lost his cool at last week’s parliamentary party meeting in Dail Eireann. He reportedly tackled the Taoiseach on whether the Fianna Fail party will go into government with Sinn Fein, shouting “I want a straight answer from you, I don’t want any waffling”
So two contrasts in fortune, Mary on the way up in Donegal South West while Dr Jim licks his wounds up north - definitely not a game for the fainthearted.

Continued from left column:

Just as it seemed there would be no solution, up popped Sinn Fein’s Thomas Pringle who declared a compromise might be in order. He proposed that another area north of the town, behind Upper Main Street and extending out past the Hospital and across the river be also rezoned ‘core retail’. In this way, he declared, the town centre would retain its pivotal position in the scheme of things, the impasse would be broken, and all could go home content with a job well done. At this stage the chair called a ten minute recess to allow members of the Donegal Electoral area a chance to discuss this suggestion and sort things out among themselves.
But to no avail. When they came back into the room, the row continued. Then Cllr Kennedy announced that he was withdrawing his proposal in support of the Pringle compromise.
Happy to see a glimmer of light, the councillors pounced on this Irish (Republican) solution. Revised maps were produced (indeed so quickly that the more unworthy among us wondered) and we listened to the top table explain what all this would mean.
(Now, the average person, on hearing that one retail area would draw away a certain amount of business from the town centre, would conclude that two would draw away twice as much. But that’s not how it works, stupid - placing two shopping malls at each end of town means, ipso-facto, that the centre will boom).
But by this stage everyone was too bamboozled to argue. Barry O’Neill gave it his best shot but when the vote was called his proposal was defeated and the rezoning was carried 18 to 8.
At the end of the day, with the full agenda not covered, Councillers were requested to re-convene on the Wednesday, but on that day, as there was no quorum, the meeting did not proceed - however, completion of the programme was due to take place yesterday, Monday, in Lifford.
Because of these submissions and changes made to the town plan, the revised version will once again be put on display in the Services Centre from 15th October to 12th November.

Writing in The Sunday Business Post, Kathleen Barrington had this to say: ‘Pringle told The Sunday Business Post he put forward the amended proposal after deciding that the Fianna Fail council members would accede to Bennett’s submission for re-zoning in any case, and saying he would prefer to see the land re-zoned before it was sold, rather than after.
Fine Gael councillor, Barry O’Neill, described the re-zoning as ‘scandalous’ and expressed surprise that Sinn Fein had sided with Fianna Fail and the property developer. Saying the re-zoning was ‘alarming’ O’Neill accused Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail of re-zoning ‘based on no professional opinion, based on no evaluation, based on no study’
But Fianna Fail councillor Peter Kennedy said ‘When Barry O’Neill is as long on Donegal county council as the rest of us, he will know how things work.’
The re-zoning is seen by some observers as a setback for Keeney Construction which plans to develop a supermarket in the town centre with Tesco as the anchor tenant.’

Other submissions on the day:

Submissions by a number of farmers, who have land within the confines of the bypass, were also discussed by the council on the day. Landowners, Andrew Graham, Joseph Hughes, John Deane, Desmond Barnett, Dan Mullarkey, Hugh Cassidy, Francis Brogan, Paddy Brogan, John Greene and David Davin, had entered a submission that their lands be included within the town boundary. This submission, backed by Cllr. Peter Kennedy and seconded by Cllr. Barry O’Neill was carried unanimously by the councillors, despite a recommendation for no change by the county manager.
On the Killybegs side of town a submission was made by Seamus Sheerin of Mountcharles to extend the town boundary to include his lands to the west of the Texaco service-station. This was proposed by Cllr Pringle and seconded by Cllr. Enda Bonner and was subsequently included in the plan, despite the recommendation of the county manager for no change to be made.
A request by Colm Harvey to have his lands at Drumlonagher rezoned from ‘open-space’ to ‘mixed use’ was upheld. However the Director of Services, Mr. Coyle, noted that the land was still designated a Special Area of Conservation and that a planning application for St. Vincent de Paul housing, currently before the council, had been referred to the Department of the Environment for comment.
Patrick Kelly and Martin McAllister had made a submission requesting that an area designated as ‘mixed use’ be amended to ‘edge of centre’ and this was granted, though access from this area on to N56 bypass road was turned down.
Declan Brassil & Co., on behalf of Bennett Construction Ltd., had two submissions: (1) for 7 acres of land at Tullyearl roundabout to be included within the plan boundary and (2) to rezone lands at their Drumlonagher site from ‘mixed use’ to ‘edge of centre’. Neither of these was granted.
Ian Thompson, Doonan, had a submission requesting that his residential lands at Doonan be changed to ‘mixed-use’ and also that land covered by ‘visually vulnerable’ be greatly reduced to facilitate residential development. This submission was proposed by Cllr Kennedy but was not seconded. This submission was not granted.
As the chamber had to be vacated by 6.15pm and there were only 44 of the 58 submissions heard, councillors had to return yesterday, Monday 11th October, to consider the remainder.
When all these new amendments are put in place, the plan will again be put on display in the Services Centre for four weeks from the 15 October to the 12th November.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

Tel: +353-74-9722860 Fax: +353-74-9722937


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