NENAGH town councillors have deferred their decision on whether or not to adopt the proposed draft development plan for the town until next Monday. The decision was made at a special meeting of the council this Monday during which town manager Marcus O’Connor told them if they failed to accept the draft report on submissions to the Nenagh and Environs Draft Development Plan 2013-1019, a default mechanism would see the plan being put in place by the county manager, Joe MacGrath.
The draft report includes the public’s submissions on the proposed plan.
The council had initially met last Thursday to discuss the plan, but because of a legal challenge in the High Court deferred their decision until after this Monday’s North Tipperary County Council meeting.
“My advice is that you adopt the plan. The plan must be adopted by Monday, January 28, 2012. That is the final day. After that, basically, the manager will make the plan. I don’t think that is a good idea as two of the most important reserved functions you have as councillors is to decide the budget and the draft plan,” he told the councillors. “You shouldn’t hand that over to an unelected official, but that is your decision.”
Only six of the town’s councillors attended the meeting, with apologies from all three Fianna Fail members - Cllr Tom Mulqueen, Cllr Jimmy Moran and Cllr Tommy Morgan.
The councillors have been reluctant to pass the plan because of a legal challenge to a decision by the manager to dezone land at Nenagh North on the Old Birr Road. It is this decision that is subject to a High Court challenge.
Mayor Lalor McGee asked if the plan would be null and void should the legal challenge succeed, to which Mr O’Connor replied that his legal advice was there was no legal impediment to adopting the plan because there was no High Court order preventing them from doing so, and reminded them that the statutory time frame to adopt the plan had to be met under the Planning Act.
He told them they could defer their decision until the county manager comes back with fresh legal advice to the county council this Friday, they could adopt the plan or they could place it on the agenda for their monthly meeting next Monday.
Cllr Tom Moylan agreed that it was important that the councilllors would have an input into the plan, but said: “It is a pity the county manager didn’t take on board that point when he decided to over-rule us and refused to accept our democratic decision. Our plan is put on hold until the legal challenge has run its course.”
He said it was his understanding that instead of the manager getting his own legal advice, the matter should have been referred to the Department of the Environment.
Cllr Seamus Morris agreed, and said the plan was not being delayed because of any action by Nenagh town councillors. “We tried everything in our power to deal with this. Barriers were put in front of us. The manager kept moving the goalposts and now he has all the councillors against him.”
The Sinn Fein councillor said the county manager had refused to accept what they wanted. We acted responsibly.”
Independent Cllr Hughie McGrath said the plan had been “democratically supported by all council members,” but had been changed “a couple of days later by the manager”.
He was “not comfortable passing any plan while there is a legal challenge”.
He was supported by Cllr Conor Delaney, who believed he didn’t think it was right to pass any plan until the legal challenge was heard in full.
Councillors rejected a call by Cllr Morris not to adopt the plan because their version had been rejected by the county manager, with Cllr Moylan saying he was “happy with the town end of the plan. The legal challenge has nothing to do with the town.”
He asked if they could “just go back to our own development plan. The problem is with Nenagh environs.”
Cllr Virginia O’Dowd, Labour, said it would be good to see members having their own plan, but that, legally, they were not sure where they stood.
Mr O’Connor suggested that the council defer any decision until its monthly meeting next Monday, before which the county manager would have further legal clarification for them, and they agreed to do so.