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8 February 2001 Edition

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Developers threaten another Wexford village

BY ROISIN DE ROSA

Duncannon is a beautiful quiet little village in the southeast of Wexford. It sits above a white sandy strand against a background of lovely dark hills sloping down to the sea. It is almost unspoilt, until now.

Until a few months ago, there was a community hall in the centre of the village overlooking the strand. It's now gone, the site sold to developers to build ten apartments.

At a meeting last month to decide whether the Catholic Church should sell the land for the development 145 people voted against the developers. About 200 voted in favour. The site went to auction last week and sold for £300,000. Just a quarter of a mile up the road, planning permission has already been given for 140 apartments on the old golf course.

``We've seen it all before at Courtown, which has become an environmental slum,'' Sinn Féin Councillor in New Ross, John Dwyer, warns. ``In manic overdevelopment in Courtown, Wexford County Council allowed over 1,200 new houses to be shovelled into a 10 km coastal strip, to build `holiday homes' and suburban housing estates.

``All this development was directly inspired by the government's iniquitous Seaside Resort Tax Incentive Scheme, which has directly destroyed seaside resorts all round the 26 Counties from Sligo to Youghal, from Achill to Wexford,'' he says. Under this scheme, developers could write the price of the holiday home off against tax on any income over ten years, and 50% of the price could be written off in the first year.

``There are some 390 on our New Ross UDC housing list,'' says Dwyer. ``That means about 1,400 people in desperate need of housing. Yet down the road there is Legoland housing, destroying the outstanding beauty of the countryside, lying empty for the bulk of the year, built only for the benefit of a tax breaks.''

Some of these houses are let for a few weeks in the summer. Mostly they remain empty. As well known environmentalist and author, Frank McDonald, points out, the Tax Scheme's requirement that the houses be let for a part of the year are often met through unscrupulous deals between developers. Locals who suffer the Forest Park development at Courtown Harbour on their doorstep complain how beautiful trees were cut down without planning permission and how the houses in the development will be derelict in a few years. The council never bothered to even reply to their letters complaining about the destruction of their woodland and walkways.

``Nobody could quite convey how bad it (Courtown) really is - and on a scale so vast that it is almost beyond belief, even in Ireland,'' McDonald wrote last year, about the development.

``These `developments' have driven the price of a site so high that people born and bred here, the community, are unable to get housing for themselves or their children,'' says John Dwyer. ``Land has jumped in price from some £3,000 per acre to a staggering £80,000 or £100,000. Courtown should have been a lesson to us all, where crazy development was allowed without any regard to services, water, sewage, roads or provision for holidaymakers' entertainment.''

There have been occasions when An Bord Pleanála has overturned Wexford County Council's decisions to grant planning permission, but the developers have normally been let loose by the council.

Rumours abound. Many questions have been asked. ``Corruption is rife throughout the country, and I see no reason to assume that Wexford is an exception,'' says John Dwyer. ``Everyone is waiting for the Flood Tribunal to visit Wexford. People feel powerless to do anything about it. Meanwhile, the development goes on, and with it the destruction of our greatest natural resource, the quality of life and the very survival of communities.

``Who will stop Courtown coming to Duncannon?''
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