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Christian community’s East Clare housing plan back on track

A BID to create housing for older members of a religious community in Tuamgraney is back on track, now that the developers have clarified a number of aspects of their plans. 

In June of last year, The Christian Community lodged an application to update their existing facilities at Drewsborough, and to create 12 new accommodation units.  

According to a design statement submitted with the application, the existing Christian Community Centre is made up of a chapel, priest’s house, visitor accommodation, therapy rooms and associated services. The proposed project would involve the demolition of part of an existing building, the extension of the chapel and the creation of a new accommodation block.

The application noted that The Christian Community had been able to obtain a site to the south of its existing centre, opening opportunities to update facilities and to provide accommodation for older people.

After an initial assessment of the application, planners wrote to the organisation with an FI request last September. In their letter, they sought clarity on a number of issues including any plans for interment of human remains at the site. 

After securing an extension of time, over and above the statutory six months, The Christian Community has now provided detailed additional information on aspects of the plans, including fire safety, traffic and integration of the new building into the village of Tuamgraney. 

In the first instance, the FI response stated that an agreement has been reached with Clare County Council over social housing as required by Part V of the Planning and Development Act and supporting correspondence has been submitted.

In relation to the management and ownership of the facility, the FI response outlined that “various management/ownership models are still being actively given consideration to ensure residents maximum security of tenure while being part of a community with shared values”.

The developers added that The Christian Community will have control of the units, but said no final decision had yet been made on the structure of the arrangement. 

The developers have also given an assurance that the development will fit into the traditional setting of Tuamgraney. They said that the proposed residential building “is primarily based on good quality design criteria and sustainable design criteria”.

A photographic analysis has also been provided to show integration of the proposed building, whose upper floor is to be timber clad, into the existing streetscape.

The FI response also explained how the elevation facing the public road has been updated to give a more traditional appearance, and how the “more noticeable features”, including a walkway and covered outdoor space, face away from the public road. Existing and proposed trees are also highlighted as methods of screening the planned apartments. 

On the issue of water supply, the developers noted that a pre-connection enquiry was made to Irish Water last October. Following the submission of the FI documentation, a response was received from Irish Water and forwarded to planners. 

A landscaping plan has been provided, as has a Traffic Analysis. The developers have stated that the latter document shows the building will create “no meaningful increase in vehicular traffic in the area”. 

In response to planners’ questions about about “future interment activities”, the developers said there are no plans to inter human remains. 

Clarity has also been given on compliance with fire safety regulations, following consultation with safety consultants. 

Summarising the FI response, architect Miles Sampson said: “There is an urgent need in society for new forms of accommodation as the need of individuals for different types of homes varies hugely at different stages of life. This project will provide much needed housing for a particular group of society that currently do not have many options and planning authorities should give these initiatives maximum support”.

There are two submissions on the planning file from neighbours in the area. A letter in support of the development was filed by Niamh Ruiséal and Mark Connolly, the owners of a house to the south of the Christian Community Centre. They told planners they had been consulted on the proposed design of the accommodation and the extension of the chapel and “are happy to see this kind of proposal for the community”. 

A submission from Derek and Teresa Browne objected to the application raising concerns that the application failed to clarify the full extent of the project. “Describing the 12 no. apartments as accommodation block is fairly well lacking in clarity,” the submission stated.

“One would assume an accommodation block might comprise a small residential unit for the priest or parish officials. 12 two bedroom apartments in one very substantial two storey block is not an accommodation building. It is a block of flats. So why not call a spade a spade”. 

Concerns were also raised about an increase in traffic on an already busy road. 

The submission concluded by saying that while the idea of providing for the elderly is “noble”, the design is “incongruous and incompatible” with the existing pattern of development in Tuamgraney.

On its website (Thechristiancommunityireland.net), The Christian Community, a registered charity, describes itself as a “religious renewal movement”, which was founded in Europe in the years following World War I and came to Ireland in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

Green Senator Róisín Garvey is named as a representative on the development, as is Senator Timmy Dooley. 

Following the receipt of the FI documentation, the Council has given June 19 as a revised indicative decision date on the plans. 

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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