Longford’s status as the ‘fastest growing county in the country’ over the past six years has forced the Office of the Planning Regulator and Minister for Heritage and Planning to review local development plans.
The revelation came to light in an executive response to a notice of motion tabled by Fianna Fáil councilor Seamus Butler at the county council meeting in July.
Cllr Butler’s motion read: “Due to recently released 2022 census information that County Longford has increased its population by 14% since 2016, I propose that we review our current county development plan with respect to residential areas and any other parameters that are related to population growth.
Preliminary census figures for Longford recorded the population of the county on 3 April 2022 as 46,634 (it was 40,873 in 2016). The population included 23,297 females and 23,355 males. This is an increase of 5,761 (+14.1%) since 2016, made up of a natural increase (i.e. births minus deaths) of 1,625 and a net migration estimated inflow (i.e. population change minus natural increase) of 4,136.
In fact, Longford recorded an average annual net in-migration of 16 people per 1,000 population between 2016 and 2022, the highest in the country.
Speaking to members, Cllr Butler said: ‘It has come as no surprise to us, although it has surprised the media, that we have had the biggest increase since the 2016 census. Time and time again we have raised this issue during discussions and, in fairness to the executive, they sought to increase those projections.
He criticized the planning ministry’s repeated lowering of projections. “The fact is that the population of Longford is now reaching what has been projected by the Department and the Office of the Regulator of Planning to 2032. If you had a business and your projections were off by 10 years you would only stay not long in business.”
Cllr Butler said there were many positives to be taken from Longford’s thriving population, but said the discrepancy between projections and actual numbers had implications across the board for education, creation jobs and housing.
Party member Uruemu Adejinmi agreed with his colleague saying, “We should seek additional funds from the department to improve and strengthen the infrastructure to accommodate the burgeoning population.
Fine Gael’s Cllr John Browne has sought clarification from the executive on the ‘strategic residential reserve’.
‘The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage issued new guidance in July 2022,’ he said, ‘I wish to draw attention to page 47 of the guidance which states ‘This is a policy and an objective of the guidelines that zoned land for housing, in an existing development plan, which is serviced and can be developed for housing, during the life of the new development plan in preparation, should not make the ‘object of dezoning’. The ministry also says land that is serviced and available for new housing construction should be kept as such, rather than being dezoned.
Cllr Browne said that under the County Longford Development Plan 2021-2027, land classed as ‘strategic residential reserve’ has ‘in effect been de-zoned’, adding: ‘It seems to me to be at odds with the spirit new guidelines issued in July 2022.”
Cll Mick Cahill (FF) said the statistics used for development planning had “proven to be distorted at Longford”. He added: “If we look to Ballymahon, we can see that growth is putting continued pressure. We need to be in a position where we can examine the situation.
Responding to questions from advisers, lead planner Donall Mac An Bheatha said Longford was better to see growth than decline.
Mr Mac An Bheatha said: “There is a certain element of pride when we look at the growth of the regional map and we can see Longford joining Dublin, Waterford and Cork.”
The senior planner said the local authority had consistently reported the population increase to the department, but had been ‘suppressed’. “We put the correct number for the last three or four development plans, but each time we find the correct number, the department reduces the number. They just don’t seem to accept that a county like Longford can grow the way it does.
He said recent correspondence with the Office of the Planning Regulator and the Department of Heritage and Planning regarding zoning had received “no response”.
Mr Mac An Bheatha said: “We would like the department and the OPR to pull together and give us the correct information. We would be wise to wait for the full census figures to be released, but the basic message is that Longford is a rapidly growing county. The population has increased by 50% in 22 years.
Implications for inaccurate data imposed on local authority planners: “We in the planning section have made the correct forecasts every year for three or four development plans, and each time we have been instructed by the Department to reduce our They just don’t seem to accept that a county like Longford can grow the way it does.
Land zoning, educational provision, health and infrastructure needs will all be affected by the disparity between Department planning data and CSO figures. Mr Mac An Bheatha said local officials should contact the Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Peter Burke, to expedite the response from departmental planners on what the local response to the data should be from CSOs: “We need advice on what the hell we are going to do in the future.
In a written response to Cllr Butler’s query, John Brannigan, Director of Project Planning and Delivery Services, noted:
“This is a phenomenal growth of 50% in 25 years, unprecedented and a great credit to Longford County Council and the people of the county for delivering and embracing this increase while maintaining the infrastructure, services and the county’s community spirit.
“There are implications for the County Longford Development Plan 2021-2027. Preliminary results figures for the county indicate that these projected population numbers have been significantly exceeded.
“This achievement of population growth is ten years earlier than predicted by the National Census Bureau and the Department of Heritage and Planning. Longford County Council had correctly forecast this growth before the previous three development plans, but were wrongly advised by the department to reduce their forecast.
Mr Brannigan spoke of a “further examination” for each of the colonies.
“With regard to these revised population figures, there will be potential implications with regard to the delivery and supply of housing, including demand for new housing, social housing and affordable properties for rent and for rent. to buy.”
Other areas include jobs and employment opportunities; infrastructure – including water supply and sewage treatment capacity in all settlements in the county; Social infrastructure – this ultimately includes reference to impacts on education and school facilities; Health, including doctors, hospitals, dentists; community facilities; equipment, parks and open spaces with sports and recreational facilities, including; and retail and business services.
Mr Brannigan concluded: “The (Longford) Planning Office has already contacted the Office of the Planning Regulator and the Minister for Heritage and Planning about this.
“Both agreed that there will be a need to review the numbers but that this needs to start at national and then regional level before local county reviews take place.
“Furthermore, it would be beneficial to get a more detailed breakdown of the local areas of cities and towns to enhance the benefits of a review. I therefore recommend that we wait for more detailed census results and hopefully this times more specific guidance from the Department before commencing a county development plan review.
Members have requested that the executive write to the Minister of Heritage and Planning, Deputy Peter Burke, to arrange a meeting to address the anomalies presented by the inaccurate data that has fed into the county’s current development plan.
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