CLARE County Councillors have decided to leave the residential zoning for a controversial €3 million social housing scheme in Shannon intact, despite submissions to have the lands zoned as open space.
The county council had planned to build 60 affordable houses in Cluain Airne but ran into a series of difficulties when the first contractor went out of business and was subsequently hit by Government cutbacks when funding was substantially reduced for local authority housing.
The first phase containing 22 houses, including 16 affordable and six step-down three and four-bedroom dwellings are nearly completed following a long delay and are almost ready for occupation.
However, it remains unclear as to when the remainder of the proposed development will be completed over the coming years due to the lack of Government funding for social housing.
The lands were zoned in the draft Shannon Local Area Plan as residential and submissions were received to have the lands zoned as open space.
Local county councillors including PJ Ryan, Patricia McCarthy and Gerry Flynn supported calls to return the unfinished part to the development lands to recreation and open space.
However, this issue was complicated by the approval of a Part 8 application for housing on these lands and the completion of Phase One of the development.
Councillors had asked the council’s legal advisor, John Shaw to clarify the timeframe of a Part 8 application, which is similar to a planning application, apart from the absence of a right to appeal to An Bord Pleanála.
The members had requested whether any change on the zoning would affect the development which has been permitted and would any change in the zoning in some way prevent construction.
The possible liability on members if members propose the lands were changed from residential to open space and this was then adopted in the approved plan.
This development has already generated a good deal of controversy over the years following the long delays with construction of the first phase.
Members of Shannon Town Council were informed in January 2011 that expenditure to November 1, 2010, on the scheme was €3,142,322, which includes planning and design fees, construction costs and site works.
Town manager, Bernadette Kinsella stated at the time, the termination of the original contract should not drive up the overall cost of the development. “Contract payments made to date reflect the value of completed works. The works required to complete Phase 1, together with payments to date, are not expected to exceed the original contract value. While the termination of the contract may result in some time delay, we do not anticipate any financial consequences,” she said.
The Concerned Residents of Cluain Airne group has complained that residents living adjacent to the stalled development have been always not kept informed about what was happening by the council.
The legal advice provided to councillors pointed out any Part 8 application was open-ended and regardless of any decision councillors may take to change the zoning, the former would take precedence.
Members were also advised the local area plan has to be consistent with the county development plan and where any ambiguity arises, priority must be given to the objectives and policies of the county development plan.
If rezoning these lands to open space in the local area plan conflicts with the objective/policy contained in the development plan, members were told that the development plan objective must take precedence.
Councillor Gerry Flynn called for a vote on a proposed change to the zoning at a council meeting on Monday.
However, Councillor Patricia McCarthy suggested the council should note the members’ concerns in view of the legal advice received by members.
Councillor Gerry Flynn recalled there was an expectation 60 houses was going to be built on this site and now this wasn’t going to happen in the near future.
The Independent Shannon councillor reiterated his call for a vote. This didn’t cut any ice with Councillor Tommy Brennan, who argued it would be “stupid” for councillors to take a vote on something they couldn’t change.
Director of services, Ger Dollard, reminded Councillor Flynn of the legal advice obtained by the council and suggested the authority could note members’ concerns, as already suggested by Mayor of Clare, Councillor Pat Hayes.
Councillor Flynn countered that for every piece of legal advice provided by the council, it was possible he could provide a different one contradicting this.
No vote was taken by councillors after Councillor Flynn’s proposal failed to get a seconder from any of his council colleagues.
Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Flynn recalled he wasn’t a councillor when the original zoning was approved and argued it would have been better to dezone this area.