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Councillor PJ Kelly has called for references to 'in-fill sites' to be removed from the Draft Clare County Development Plan 2023-2029.

Clare councillors to ‘clear the air’ with planning regulator

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THE REGULATOR of planning, Niall Cussen, is to address councillors, amid ongoing concerns over the impact of regional and national strategies on rural Clare.

A motion inviting the CEO of the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) was tabled by Councillor PJ Kelly.

The Lissycasey man, a long-time advocate for rural development, was described by Councillor Gerry Flynn as “our own expert in terms of planning”.

Outlining the motion, Councillor Kelly noted Mr Cussen’s close connections to Clare.

“Planning law is very complex and we now have to deal with the OPR’s views and other regulatory guidelines,” he said.

Describing the issues that have arisen, particularly in relation to the growth of rural Clare, during the drafting of the Development Plan for 2023-2029, the Fianna Fáil member remarked, “Many questions have been asked, but not answered.”

The motion was seconded by Councillor Clare Colleran Molloy, who described moves to invite Mr Cussen as “very positive”.

Referring to a response to the motion, asking councillors to identify topics for discussion with Mr Cussen, she said, “We don’t want to be restricted in terms of what we can ask.”

Councillor Gerry Flynn said the opportunity to meet the regulator was welcome.

“At times you’d wonder if we have a planning regulator at all, given the developments that have gone up,” he said. “Good and defined planning policies are good for County Clare. That’s why so much work has been done on our plan.”

Council CEO Pat Dowling said he had had discussions with Mr Cussen who was very happy to come and engage with members.

“We need a constructive debate and not to go on the attack,” he said.

“The OPR is a relatively new position and we can’t blame the office for everything that’s wrong in the world. We will shortly send a formal invitation.”

Leas Cathaoirleach, Councillor Joe Killeen suggested that Clare’s Oireachtas members also be invited to attend the meeting.

Councillor Kelly thanked the CEO for his positive response. “We will have a constructive discussion,” he said. “We will clear the air.”

A written response from Director of Service, Liam Conneally said, “On behalf of the members I am happy to issue an invitation to Mr. Niall Cussen, the Planning Regulator to attend a meeting of Clare County Council.

“In order to get the most from the meeting it would be beneficial if the members could identify the specific planning policy areas they wish Mr Cussen to address.”

Meanwhile, the OPR has made a detailed submission on the Draft Clare County Development Plan 2023-2029. The 42-page document makes 13 recommendations and eight observations.

Recommendations, the OPR stated, relate to “clear breaches of the relevant legislative provisions of the national or regional policy framework and/or of the policy of Government”.

The Council must comply with them. The OPR’s recommendations relate to the Limerick-Shannon Metropolitan Area (LSMA); the core strategy and settlement strategy; sustainable development; housing strategy; economic development and employment ; sustainable transport and flood risk management.

Observations, which require the Council to justify their approach, have been made on the core strategy and settlement strategy; rural housing and regeneration; economic development and employment; climate action and renewable energy; sustainable transport; environment, heritage and amenities; and implementation and monitoring.

The OPR commended the Council’s approach to renewable energy and climate action and acknowledged its “extensive and positive public engagement”.

Submissions on the draft plan closed on March 28 and these are now being considered by the local authority. After that, a Chief Executive’s Report will be drawn up on the submissions.

The OPR was set up in 2019 to oversee the planning system, following a recommendation of the Mahon tribunal.

The OPR, has been somewhat embattled due to concerns raised by politicians around the country.

The regulator has clearly stated that it “does not set planning policy which is the job of the Minister and government”.

“Nor does the OPR determine local authority development plans. This is reserved function for local authority members only.”

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