CONTROVERSIAL regional planning guidelines restricting the development of new major retail outlets in urban parts of Clare until 2022 were amended following a backlash from Clare County Councillors and the county manager, Tom Coughlan.
A cross-party alliance of seven Clare, Councillors along with and North Tipperary Councillors also secured other substantial changes before the new Mid-West Regional Authority planning guidelines 2010 to 2022 were adopted at a meeting in Limerick on Wednesday.
One of the key changes is the designation of the Clare side of the Shannon Estuary for industrial development following repeated claims in recent years that the county has lost out on a number of potential new industries due to a lack of appropriate zoning.
Clare councillors submitted a document requesting that all citizens be entitled to equal access to retail facilities in their own environment and that rural areas in Clare should be allowed to develop to meet local identified requirements.
Despite the designation of Ennis and Shannon as gateway hubs, the amendment noted these urban areas have not reached their potential and need to be further developed.
The Clare Champion has learned that reservations on the authority’s response to a recent submission by county manager, Tom Coughlan were expressed at a meeting attended by Clare members of the authority on Wednesday morning before the regional authority met.
Seven councillors – PJ Kelly, Oliver Garry, Pat McMahon, Pat Keane, Sonny Scanlon, Brian Meaney and Gerry Flynn agreed to three amendments to the regional blueprint before they would approve its adoption.
In his submission to the regional authority, Mr Coughlan pointed out the manager’s report for the new County Development Plan recommended the preparation of an inter-jurisdictional strategy framework plan for the Shannon Estuary.
“It is noted that the revised regional planning guidelines make reference to an integrated zone management plan for the Shannon Estuary. I believe the preparation of a strategic land use plan rather than a management plan would be of greater benefit in identifying and realising the potential of the estuary,” he stated.
He proposed that Clare County Council would be prepared to act as the lead authority, subject to funding being made available to the regional authority.
Speaking on behalf of the seven councillors at the meeting, Councillor Kelly claimed the existing guidelines restricting retail developments to meet daily needs is the equivalent of allowing Clare people to “buy fags and ice cream” locally.
Councillor Kelly explained councillors are trying to secure balanced regional development, particularly in Clare, as the plan attempts to centralise too much development in Limerick City,
“Limerick City Centre is a non-shopping centre, which is only suitable for selling condoms and cellphones,” he claimed.
This prompted a sharp response from authority chairman, Limerick City Councillor Ger Fahy, who rejected the charge that Limerick City is an economic failure.
Councillor Kelly said they didn’t want a situation to develop where people from Loop Head would have to travel to Limerick City to buy clothes.
He stressed that the Clare county manager’s submission had to be adopted and anything prejudicial in the guidelines had to be removed.
Before the Clare amendments were adopted, regional authority director, Liam Conneally, explained all amendments would have to be vetted from an environmental perspective through the Strategic Environmental Assessment.
Limerick County Councillors also proposed a number of changes, which were accepted. Councillor Hanafin stressed that the amendments were either accepted or out that day.
While Mr Conneally felt the changes are reasonable, he stressed it had to be done as part of the legal process.
Councillor Kelly said a question had been raised in the minutes of the previous meeting why the county manager had sent in his submission late, suggesting an ulterior motive, which the councillor rejected.
“The county manager made his submission on his own volition and it should be accepted he has no motive only the best interest of County Clare,” he said. He requested that the word “could” be changed to “would” in relation to the acceptance of the county manager’s proposal.
Mr Conneally pledged that the minutes could be changed to reflect the desire that the county manager’s submission would be accepted if that was the wish of members, which was accepted.