Royal Canal buffer motion defeated 19-18

Debate fell into ‘nature v housing’ sides

by Rose Barrett
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Last week saw members of Fingal County Council vote against a motion by Cllr John Walsh (Lab) to retain a 30m buffer zone along the Royal Canal through the Clonsilla area.

Last September, members of the same council voted to protect the Royal Canal buffer zone, against the advice of Chief Executive Ann Marie Farrelly but last week, 19 FCC members voted against the 30m retention, 18 for and two abstentions – a retrograde step for many locals and disappointing for several local councillors.

Roisin Burke, FCC Senior Planner, FCC stated the Chief Executive’s and The Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR)views were clear, and asked that the 30m buffer zone be removed from the draft development plan. 

Stating the canal was well protected within various local objectives outlined within the development plan. She questioned the validity of the 30m buffer zone in terms of ecological significance – was it just a number ‘plucked out of the air’. She stated her concern that that this buffer zone was simply suggested to prevent housing development in the area and further emphasised that there is ample protection within the national policy on environmental protection, the Fingal Draft Dev Plan, the Record of Protected Structures, etc.

Ms Burke called on the members to uphold the recommendations of the Chief Executive’s report and to vote against the buffer zone.

Opinions were voiced across the chamber, some stating people need housing – one councillor stated housing needs for him would be a priority over the badgers, butterflies, etc. The debate fell into ‘housing v environment’, protecting wildlife or sterilising land against residential development. 

Local councillor Natalie Treacy (SF) stated she voted in favour on both occasions for the retention of the buffer zone, for the protection of the canal and its wildlife.

“It was very disappointing that some councillors tried to make out if we voted in favour of the motion, that we were voting against housing and development.

“I made the points in my contribution that this motion was purely about the protection of the canal and the wildlife; housing shouldn’t even come into it! It should not be a case of either or – and we should vote solely for the 30m buffer for its ecological protection.”

Cllr Walsh said: “This was a very disappointing result on both motions, a motion that came from an overwhelming demand from local communities and the Friends of Deep Sinking who are trying to protect the priceless habitats, biodiversity and wildlife along the Royal Canal. The canal is an extraordinary public amenity that is teeming with biodiversity. It does not have any comparable protection to other waterways in Fingal.”

Cllr John Walsh (Lab)

He noted it was disappointing that a narrow majority of councillors voted against the recommendation for an ecological corridor from the Department of Housing which strongly supported the proposed buffer zone.

“It clearly stated: ‘This Department strongly supports the above proposed amendment as the maintenance of the buffer zone along the Royal Canal promoted in it should aid the conservation of the flora and fauna associated with the Royal Canal proposed Natural Heritage Area (pNHA) and the function of this area as ecological corridor facilitating the movement of plant and animal species.’

“Unfortunately, no councillors from FG and FF voted for the motions and used the housing crisis – over which both FF and FG Ministers for Housing have presided as their main rationale. This was about protecting the Royal Canal and nothing else!”

Cllr Walsh added that there are currently “19 non active sites with full planning permission… where over 2,000 homes could have been built by developers in D 15 alone.” 

For Christine Moore, founder member of the Deep Sinking and a D 15 resident for almost 19 years, the beauty, biodiversity and amenity of The Deep Sinking along the Royal Canal cannot be underestimated. “It has its own distinctive ecosystem – something which clearly, Fingal County Council does not recognise.”

Cllr Adrian Henchy (FF) stated “I voted against the motion as FCC Senior Planner, the Director of Planning, the Chief Executive and the OPR spoke out very strongly against it.  They cited the example if the motion were to pass, it could potentially materially contravene the recently adopted Kellystown Local Area Plan for Dublin 15. When I weighed up all the evidence, I was happy to side with the professional planning advice and the office of the planning regulator.”

Featured image: The Deep Sinking photo by Christine Moore

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