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Councillor Joe Garrihy: "The challenges really are with the Ukrainian people, what they've had to deal with, what they've left and the ongoing situation. Accommodating them as best we can is the test here."

Call for joined-up thinking to drive Clare’s rural revival

HOUSING in rural areas was the focus debate at the July meeting of Clare County Council, with a call for all stakeholders to be brought together on the issue. 

The issue was raised by Councillor Joe Garrihy who described rural housing as “one of the major challenges of our time”. He thanked Director of Service, Anne Haugh and Leonard Cleary for their “very progressive view” and expressed the hope that “an unprecedented investment in rural areas … will result in reversal in decline in West Clare”. 

“This challenge merits a very specific focus and engagement with key stakeholders,” Councillor Garrihy said.

“Unless we tackle the ability and capacity of people to live in the areas were investing in, theres a danger that that investment will be undermined. The progressive nature and approach of the Council is to be commended, but maybe we could convene a specific group. We have a rural pillar and director who does extraordinary work.

“Encouraging and signposting private development, as well as social housing, is really important. For private organisations to invest in rural places, they need confidence that the focus of the Council is on viability and sustainability.”

Councillor Garrihy said the demand for rural services was borne out in figures showing 200 on childcare waiting lists in Ennistymon, with a further 90 in Lisdoonvarna and 40 in Liscannor. 

The motion, which was seconded by Councillor Shane Talty, was also backed by Council CEO Pat Dowling. “I cant argue with the spirit of the motion, ‘he said. “Well take it on board and progress it.”

A written response to the motion was provided by Director of Rural Development, Leonard Cleary. 

“Clare County Councils approach to housing in rural towns and villages – both planning and provision – is aligned to National Government Policy and Government allocated resources,” it stated. “A comprehensive series of local Clare County Council strategies and programmes of work deliver on this National programme.

“On a cross-Directorate basis, the Planning, Housing, Municipal District Offices and Rural & Community Departments are directly involved in leading aspects of this service area together with other sections of Council. By necessity, this requires engagement with stakeholders in the marketplace and community.”

The reply also noted the recent publication of the government’s Town Centre First programme. It said that this offers an opportunity for rural towns and villages and that “government support is imminent” to create staffing capacity. 

“The ongoing Government investment in social housing is a key factor in local authority delivery in rural towns and villages,” the reply added, stating also that: “The rural housing aspect of the solutions to the Ukrainian refugeeshousing needs offers a similar opportunity for Government investment and local provision.”

“In relation to the options for addressing vacancy to deliver social housing, the Vacant Homes Officer is available to advise those with vacant properties on the relevant schemes to support the return of the unit to productive use,” the reply concluded. “A recent change to the Repair and Leasing scheme has now opened up this option to owners of vacant commercial properties also.”

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