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Anger over low Banner population growth guidelines

A NEW draft county development plan for Clare is about to go on public display, but many members of the County Council have serious issues with it.
At a special meeting of the Council on Tuesday evening, the decision was taken to move to the next phase, but several of the members insisted this didn’t mean they were happy with everything in it.
There was anger about national policy which provides certain targets for Clare’s population growth, which they feel are too low for the county, and have the potential to stymie its development.
There is also concern about inability to zone areas for development where sewerage systems aren’t in place, with a fear that certain rural areas will not have the chance to reach their potential.
At Tuesday’s meeting Councillor Tony O’Brien said that moving to the next stage of the plan “does not indicate agreement with the entire contents, that goes without saying”.
He warned that there could still be “a good battle, after Easter next year”, before the plan would be endorsed.
Fianna Fáil’s Pat Hayes was also clearly unhappy, saying that, “A lot of dictats have come from national parliament, the planning regulator and all the different departments out there that are now dictating what we put at local level.”
Councillor Hayes said that guidelines are not allowing Clare to develop in the way that it could, given the rise or remote working. “They have not taken into account the present scenario and how it has effected our country in terms of Covid and the dispersal of population.
“They have given us predicted growth for our towns and villages. In my view, and I’m sure a lot of hte other members view, we haven’t been given enough of a growth level for our county.”
National policies are not helping attempts to revitalise rural Clare, he claimed.
“We as a Council have our Rural Develoment Strategy to try and get people into rural areas and communities but policies that come at a national level don’t encourage that. That clearly needs to be said today.”
Introducing taxes on land zoned for development may not actually help with the provision of housing, the Fianna Fáil councillor added.
“There’s a new land tax in terms of land zoned that will have an effect on people. While people might have been clamouring to have their land zoned and brought into development in the past, they might be clamouring as quickly to get out of it, which doesn’t help for growth of our towns and villages.”
He said that developing certain parts of Clare is being made more difficult, not because of local decisions, but because of ones made outside the county.
“You’d be wondering what role we have as councillors here,” he added.
Lissycasey’s Councillor PJ Kelly said that Ireland is operating in a way that does not comply with EU requirements, which he feels it is ignoring.
“The Government was found to be in contempt of court with the European Commission.”
“It hasn’t complied and a number of years have passed. In the meantime it brought in the OPR (Office of the Planning Regulator) which appears to be pursuing a line of action which is the very opposite of what the European Court decided on.”
He claimed that by compelling local authorities to comply with its policies, the State is trying to force councils to comply with something that he feels is illegal.
“I cannot understand it, if you or I were found in contempt of court we know what would happen. The Government is in contempt of court,it’s not complying and we are asked as members of a planning authority to aid and abet in that contempt.”
Councillor Joe Killeen said that the population growth set out for Clare will see it lagging behind its neighbours.
“There’s obvious annoyance with the National Development Plan that set the guideline for the developmental potential of our county.
“It’s fine if you look at it in isolation, but if you look at our neighbouring counties of Galway and Limerick, our allocation wasn’t nearly as generous as it might have been.”
He said that not providing for development in areas that haven’t been provided with appropriate sewerage infrastructure is another serious flaw.
“The unsewered villages has been an issue during the development of the plan, and saying to villages ‘well you don’t have a wastewater treatment system there, so hard luck, we won’t be able to zone particular areas of your village.’ That’s a disadvantage to lots of villages at a time when there’s a huge clamour for extra housing and there are people on the waiting list queuing up to get housing in our county.”
He also said that policy can’t allow some parts of the county to be turned into a theme park for tourists.
“There are lots of areas where it is extremely difficult to get planning permission now, and that’s going to be a problem between now and 2029. My comment on that is that Clare can’t be a tourist only reservation. Clare, particularly North and West Clare, has to be a living microcosm of society.”
Councillor Joe Cooney also criticised the impact of national policy on the plan, and he said the elected representatives for Clare don’t have the input they should have on the county’s future.
“Unfortunately with the guidelines coming from the Department, a lot of the concerns about the County Development Plan are taken out of the hands of the local authority and that is very concerning. We have been told it’s our plan to put in place, but unfortunately, that’s not the situation.
“We’re all well aware of the settlements in this county that don’t have infrastructure and it’s very disappointing to see that when the plan is adopted these settlements will be dezoned. That’s been a major concern of mine from day one, it’ll be a major concern of mine going forward and hopefully it won’t affect the rural parts of our county when our new development plan comes in.”
Councillor Pat Burke said that Broadford is an example of a village that won’t be allowed to develop in the way that it would, because of regulations around sewerage.
“It is a commuter village to Limerick City, is crying out for development and would thrive if it had infrastructure.”
The Council’s director of Economic Development Liam Conneally addressed the meeting, and was in agreement with several of the points made by the Councillors.
“I think the issue of the population piece has been well documented. We weren’t happy with the growth projections that were allocated to us. We have raised that at official level and I know you have raised it at political level.”
He said the projection will impact on the amount of land to be zoned for development in Clare, and there has been no sign of a raising of the level.
“I do have to say to members we haven’t even got a crack in the door in terms of positive feedback on that. But I think the growth in our settlements will prove to the officials in the Department that the growth patterns they have allocated will be outdone, and mid-plan I’d say we will be looking for additional population allocation.”
On the issue of unsewered settlements, he said, “I completely empathise with the elected members on this issue. On the one hand we are proposing that we conserve landscapes, keep them as living landscapes, but if we are to provide an alternative to one off housing we must have sewered settlements.”
He said that the Council is “at the end of our tether” waiting for new wind energy guidelines, which haven’t been updated since 2006, despite current development applications being far larger than what was envisaged 15 years ago.
The draft development plan will be on display from December 10, with submissions from the public invited.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.