HAVING recently achieved the coveted Purple Flag status, a call is now being made for Ennis to set its sights on yet another internationally recognised award.
The next meeting of Ennis Town Council is set to hear a motion from Councillor Johnny Flynn for the local authority to strive for Blue Flag status for Ballyalla Lake.
However, a senior official of Clare County Council has told The Clare Champion they do not envisage that Blue Flag standards could be complied with at the lake within the resources available to the council. Senior engineer with the Environment Section of Clare County Council Paul Moroney added that more stringent bathing water regulations for all bathing water will need to be complied with by the end of next year and that the authority will apply its resources to maintaining standards on existing Blue Flag beaches.
Councillor Flynn’s notice of motion for this Tuesday’s meeting requests a report looking at the feasability of achieving the Blue Flag, saying there is a proven public demand for improvements at the lake.
According to local business owner and former president of Ennis Chamber, John Dillane there is interest among the town’s business community in supporting the lake’s development for water activity and an environmental attraction.
Next week’s meeting will see Councillor Flynn seek a report from the town clerk on progress on plans to enhance the lake and strive for Blue Flag status by investigating “the potential of Ballyalla Lake as a nature reserve and an outdoor aquatic activity centre to supplement existing facilities in Lees Road”.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Councillor Flynn stated, “Clearly there are two sets of opportunities here for Clare and its people to make the most of this wonderful resource at our doorstep. The first being the preservation and enhancement of the nature reserve and the second a resurrection and improvement of the lake’s holidaying and tourism opportunities. The use of the Blue Flag system would be an ideal structure to achieve both.”
Like the recently achieved Purple Flag – the evening excellence award for Ennis town, the bid for a Blue Flag involves a set of criteria reaching far beyond water quality. Thirty-two criteria need to be fulfilled in the areas of environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management and safety and services.
According to Councillor Flynn the area could have important habitat and biodiversity value, with a crannog located at the site. Other portions of the site have good road access, lake frontage and elevated fields. He points out that the beach and amenities at Ballyalla are located just over two miles from junction 14 of the M18.
Owner of outdoor businesses, Top Bike and Top Part and former president of Ennis Chamber John Dillane has lent his support to the move saying, “There is a great opportunity at Ballyalia lake for a partnership between the area’s residents, wider community, local authority and private sector investors as 50% of Clare’s population are located in reasonable proximity and as Ballyalla is in immediately adjacent to the national motorway system. Speaking to some of my fellow business owners over the past months, I can say there is an interest to support the development of the lake as an water activity and environmental attraction while respecting its inherit biodiversity and local residents.”
An online petition in 2010 showed that over 250 people were interested in the improvement of the lake. More recently, the Ennis 2020 People, Place, Potential community visioning exercise for residents and town users of Ennis showed an appetite for the restoration and further development of the lake.
Councillor Flynn added, “In March 2012, Ballyalla Lake was included in Clare County Council’s Draft Beach Improvement Programme 2012 – 2015 (DBIP). Works including the resurfacing of footpaths, re-planting of trees and improvement of informational panels and picnic areas are outlined to be completed by 2015. In addition, the Clare County DBIP states, “Clare County Council will consider proposals from the private/community/commercial sectors which will lead to the improvement in infrastructure/facilities at Clare’s Beaches.”
A public meeting in Ennis is set to be organised in the coming weeks to outline the potential of Ballyalla, with further details to be announced closer to the date.
“The business community could be a great catalyst to advance the project in addition to the ear-marked council funding. I have discussed with representatives from the business community that we will call a public meeting in the coming weeks to outline potential of lands held in public ownership and to gauge public and business support for setting up a working group to bring the project forward,” said Councillor Flynn.
“Time is, of course, of the essence in particular if this project is looking for Leader funding, which is shortly going to come to an end. Overall, I believe it is important to think big and aim for the true potential to bring the amenity to a level which could achieve long-term success in the form of the Hub for Sports, Recreation and Environment in Clare.”
However, when contacted by The Clare Champion, Paul Moroney, senior engineer with the Environment section of Clare County Council stated,
“The EU passed a new bathing water directive in 2006, this has been implemented into Irish law in the 2008 Bathing Water regulations. These regulations are far more stringent than the previous regulations. The statistical basis for calculation of ‘Excellent’ Bathing water status is far more extensive in the new regulations. An Taisce use these new regulations already to determine the status of bathing water. Excellent status in accordance with the 2008 regulations is required to achieve and maintain the blue flag.
“The bathing water standards themselves are in a period of transition at the moment and from the end of 2014, all bathing water will need to comply with the new 2008 regulations. We anticipate that it will be a challenge to comply with these more stringent standards for bathing water into the future. Clare County Council will apply its resources to meeting these standards and maintaining the existing Blue Flag beaches. Ballyalla does not have blue flag status at present and we do not envisage that we could comply with the blue flag standards at Ballyalla within the resources that are available to us at present.”