THE Department of Housing has defended its decision not to approve Clare County Council’s plans for a multi-million social and affordable housing development in Meelick.
Deputy Cathal Crowe wrote to the Housing Minister asking why a loan was denied to Clare County Council to develop a mixed housing development comprising of 70 social and affordable housing in Meelick last year.
The Fianna Fáil Deputy had expressed his disappointment this housing development was shelved as there is a huge demand for social housing in South-East Clare.
“It is hugely regrettable that this project is not being developed at a time when there is an immense need for housing in this area. I liked this development because it almost had a 50 50 split of affordable and social housing,” he stated.
In accordance with the requirements in the Local Government Act 2001, Clare County Council sought sanction to borrow €6 million to purchase 10 sites across the county for housing development in June 2019.
When reviewing requests such as this, the Department of Housing is required to consider the borrowing capacity for the local government sector, the overall priorities of Government in terms of infrastructure, regional development and local development, as well as the alignment of local authority proposals with national and local policies and plans.
Of the 10 sites that formed part of the request, sanction to borrow €3 million was approved.
The National Planning Framework prioritises public investment in substantial new housing development into towns and villages, where citizens can access existing local education facilities, employment opportunities, healthcare, transport and other local services.
Approved borrowing sanctions, as indicated above, have been for housing projects in such existing towns and villages in County Clare.
The Department of Housing’s Serviced Sites Fund, supports the development of publicly owned sites for affordable housing development, similarly concentrates on established city and town areas where such existing local services and infrastructure are currently available.
The Meelick site is situated within a small residential area that is isolated from such necessary local services and has severely limited public transport.
The current Clare County Development Plan also indicates that the site in question is unserviced and there is no indication or commitment that the required services for development are to be provided by Irish Water to facilitate the housing development proposed by Clare County Council. Furthermore, the local authority’s Core Strategy Population Target for Ballycannon North Meelick indicates a target increase in population of 124 Persons or 45 households) only, from 2011-2023.
It is not clear whether or not the current population may have already reached this target. The scale of the proposed development, at approximately 70 housing units, is inconsistent with Departmental Guidelines on Sustainable Communities, which seek to provide social housing development of a scale proportionate to the size and demand in the existing local population.
Given the very limited access to facilities, Clare County Council would be required to demonstrate that no other more suitable, better located sites are available within other large villages in the county.
The council would also have to demonstrate a high demand for the location in question by way of approved social housing applicants who have expressed a specific preference for Ballycannon North Meelick.
It was for these reasons that this part of the loan application has not been sanctioned.