AN ATTEMPT is to be made to secure extra time to iron out controversial elements of the forthcoming County Development plan.
A group of 11 council members have indicated their intention to seek an extension of time for the creation of the blueprint which will cover the period 2022-2028. They have cited concerns about the impact of national policies on rural Clare. Population projections contained in the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the distribution of new development have alarmed many members of the council. They have also taken issue with the requirement that lands with no prospect of being serviced in the lifetime of the county development plan be de-zoned.
At the local authority meeting this week, Councillors Murphy, Hayes, Cooney, Gerry Flynn, Norton, Crowe, Kelly, O’Callaghan, Colleran-Molloy, O’Gorman and O’Brien tabled a motion calling for the extension of time in light of new guidelines on rural housing and wind energy, as well as changes brought about by the pandemic. They had hoped to use a mechanism in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act, 2021, but were told on Monday that the legislation had not yet been signed by the President.
Announcing the deferral, Councillor Cillian Murphy said members had expected the legislation to be enacted at that point. “This is critical to a predominantly rural county like Clare,” he said. “We don’t want to hurt our own case so we are happy to defer.”
Caution was urged by Chief Executive Pat Dowling. “The signing of the legislation is not the full story,” he said. “It also requires a Commencement Order. While I respect the motion, we have to proceed according to set timelines and in the context of the existing legislation. It would be good if members could take part in a workshop should the Bill become law.”
Councillor Gerry Flynn said he was hopeful of an extension of time and said the new law offered “an opportunity to produce a better County Development Plan”. “We have 52 settlements in Clare with no facilities,” he said. “The elephant in the room is Irish Water.”
According to Councillor PJ Kelly, rural planning is “at crisis point”, while Councillor Joe Cooney said it would be hard to support the new plan if more wasn’t done for rural villages. “At the moment, what’s being proposed is not satisfactory,” he said. “We have to find a way around it and if we have to buy time, we will.”
Speaking to The Champion after the meeting, Councillor Pat Hayes said he understands the legislation has since been signed. “We will be seeking a special meeting on an extension under the Act,” he confirmed. “The national policies were drawn up before the pandemic. Since Covid, we’ve seen people wishing to move in greater numbers to rural Ireland. We need to make sure the new development plan takes account of that. As the national policies stand, the door will be closed on large sections of East Clare and on West Clare too, if there is no prospect of them securing services. Development targets for the likes of Feakle are as low as 21 units over six years. In Scariff-Tuamgraney, they’re 59. We’re constantly being told that this is our development plan and we’re going to take a stand to make sure we get that plan right.”