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The popular walking bus to Ennis National School had to be suspended when Westpark Business Park refused to facilitate it any longer.

Councillor: ‘Are planning conditions just enforced ad hoc?’

Enforcement of planning conditions were brought up at Ennis MD, as alternatives for return of popular walking bus at Ennis school are explored

ALTERNATIVE options are being examined by an Ennis school to allow for the return of a popular ‘walking bus’ after access to its traditional meeting point at the Westpoint Retail Park was prevented.

A meeting is due to be held between council officials and public representatives and the board of management of Ennis National School this week in a bid to find a solution which will allow the walking bus to go ahead in another location.

Questions are also being asked about Clare County Council’s enforcement of planning conditions, with Ennis councillors insisting that the facilitation of the walking bus was part of a previously granted planning application.

The walking bus had operated from Westpoint Business Park every morning for eight years, and late last August parents of school children were informed that the facility was cancelled due to a lack of access.

At the time management of the business park insisted they were left with “no option” to impose parking controls saying it is “not sustainable” for a private developer to meet the parking requirements for the school with associated costs and insurances.

Speaking at the monthly meeting of the Ennis Municipal District, Councillor Clare Colleran Molloy asked, “With respect to the Ennis National School Walking Bus from the West Point Retail Park, that the legal advices be shared with the Members of the Ennis Municipal District as to why Clare County Council Planning Department ‘do not, at this time, intend to pursue this matter from a planning enforcement perspective’.”

Councillors were previously told the facilitation of the walking bus is a condition of planning permission on the site, she outlined. Councillor Colleran Molloy questioned when are planning conditions to be enforced by the local authority, or if it is done on an “ad-hoc basis”?

“What is the point, and what is the certainty for all affected by these conditions when we have a kind of bespoke enforcement of them?”

She recalled how a meeting between councillors and the school’s board of management last year saw councillors endeavour to do whatever it could to mediate an amicable outcome. She stressed the positive impact the walking bus had had on pupils.

Responding to the motion, Gareth Ruane, Executive Planner, stated, “The Planning Authority cannot comment publicly on any enforcement matters under investigation so as not to prejudice any particular outcome or decision.

“In general for enforcement files, any legal advice received is written in contemplation of legal proceedings and as such is legally privileged. For this reason therefore, the Planning Authority cannot provide a detailed response in respect of this motion or cannot provide a copy of any legal advice received.”

Councillor Colleran Molloy described the response as “terse” saying she understood why as there could be an issue with the matter being ‘sub-judice’.

However, she continued, “It is uncomfortable for me as a public representative to accept a situation where we have planning conditions put on files and developments that may or may not be enforced. And that seems to be the situation.”

Mayor of Ennis, Councillor Ann Norton opened the matter up to the rest of the councillors, cautioning them to be aware of the potential of affecting ongoing procedures.

Councillor Norton added that there has been a “huge amount” of communication between the school and both herself and Councillor Paul Murphy who were selected to represent the council on the matter.

“We are due to meet to look at solutions, and that is what we have been looking at from the outset, solutions to support the walking bus to the best of our ability and we are coming hopefully to an agreed place that will support the walking bus.”

Councillor Mary Howard said she has spoken with the board of management and “there is huge frustration”. She said facilitating the walking bus was a planning condition “from the word go”.

“There was huge engagement from the Ennis Municipal District, from our engineers and it was seen as best practice throughout the country. Talking to parents and teachers about the energy levels of students coming in in the morning, they were all in great form and chatting, and now they are coming in tired after being dropped off as close to the school as possible.”

Councillor Paul Murphy voiced his support for the idea of the walking bus, pointing to its contribution to Ennis’ success in the Tidy Towns competition.

He asked are planning conditions enforceable saying “putting a planning condition on private property, I don’t know if it’s enforceable by law and maybe that remains to be seen”.

Councillor Johnny Flynn said he was “very disappointed” when he was told that the walking bus had been cancelled. He recalled a 2018 planning application for the site which, “It appears as if the provision that was granted requires facilitation within the site of the walking bus was which was in existence prior to the planning application.”

Councillor Pat Daly suggested that Éire Óg’s grounds could be used as an alternative location.

Leonore O’Neill, senior executive officer, told the councillors that the matters raised would be brought to the attention of the planning office. She confirmed that a meeting has been scheduled with the school for this Friday.

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