The immediate reaction to the Minister of State's decision to overturn decisions made by Kildare County Council on the Celbridge local area plan is, predictably, negative. People wonder what the point is in the public process that they are encouraged to engage in when it is a forgone conclusion. The decision is pretty much made in the Custom House. Utterly disheartened people have contacted me. Some say they are contemplating moving because of the mess that will be made of the town and the total disregard for the views of the public from which there have been thousands of submissions. People have questioned the point of electing councillors when the real power lies with the council CEO and the Custom House. This is not a rogue group of councillors. They have respected the process and listened and engaged with the public but that has counted for nothing. Democracy is sullied. The sheer scale and extent of the development now provided for, the location of some of the development and the absence of supporting infrastructure and services are matters that people have real concerns about. It is a pattern that people have got used to. It is not a planning system that avoids chaos but one that creates chaos and then responds to it. People in Celbridge are not opposed to new housing - far from it - but it is not enough on its own.
The directions the Minister of State made relate to two locations. The first is Donaghcumper, a location of significant historic importance adjacent to the internationally important Castletown House. An expert study commissioned by Kildare County Council in 2006, carried out by UCD's school of architecture, landscape and civil engineering, stated:
This study has clarified the extraordinary degree of design and planning evident in the composite design of three demesnes; those of Castletown, St. Wolstan's and Donaghcumper. With their key spinal town of Celbridge they form a remarkable instance of the quality and vision of eighteenth-century landscape design.
This is at the heart of Celbridge and is why it is a historic town. Following thousands of submissions from the public, people who value their heritage, the council rezoned the land in Donaghcumper demesne as strategic open space. The council CEO had proposed zoning for a town centre extension. The Minister of State has overruled the councillors and instead says that the Donaghcumper site is centrally located and is the most appropriate location for town centre zoning for future commercial retail and other related facilities. This site is small, at 6.5 ha. It is not a gigantic site but it is important.
If it was not of historic importance, this would be fine. There is a great irony in that the Minister of State's Department, on 22 July 2009, expressed concerns at the potential of a previously proposed development and how it might impact on the character and setting of Castletown House and its designed landscape and protected views. I quote from the correspondence from the Department at the time, which states the issues of particular concern would be the potential adverse effects on the built heritage and their settings which would include Castletown House, Donaghcumper House, the built heritage of the area, the built heritage of the town, protected structures and recorded monuments. There is history to this site. Some of the lands were zoned as residential and for town centre extension. Planning applications followed in 2001. They were approved by the council but there was a lengthy oral hearing when there was an appeal to An Bord Pleanála.