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Fear over Clare town’s crumbling core as outskirts thrive

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DERELICTION in the centre of Tulla has put the spotlight on the way the town is developing, with one public representative saying the Council is being accused of destroying it, writes Fiona McGarry.
There have been long-standing concerns about urban decay in sections of the centre of Tulla at a time when housing development on the outskirts is increasing.
The problem came to a head early this year when the local authority was forced to serve a Dangerous Structures Notice on the owners of an empty building in the heart of the town.
A section of the footpath on Main Street was closed, in the interests of public safety, and a traffic management system put in place.
After several months of attempted negotiations with the owners, and delays created by the closure of the construction sector during lockdown, the authorities have now moved to offer one final chance before stepping in to undertake the necessary works themselves.
The matter was raised when Councillor Pat Hayes sought an update at the July meeting of the Killaloe Muncipal District.
“We have a huge programme of social housing in Tulla and still have the issue of derelict buildings and vacant properties in the centre,” he said.
“We need a serious commitment to deal with it because we now have a building falling onto street.”
Senior Executive Engineer (SEE) Niamh Madden gave an assurance that the Council is constantly liaising with fire control on the matter.
“A preliminary health and safety plan has been developed for works and the service is preparing to appoint contractor.
“Before that, we are giving a final opportunity to the owners and if there is no work in the next week, the fire service will step in and organise a contractor.”
Councillor Hayes said that while he appreciated the update, this was “not the way business should be done”.
“There is an area of the street sectioned off with a negative visual impact for Tulla,” the Fianna Fáil member said.
“HGVs are getting stuck in the town for the last two to three months and the Council is now being accused of inactivity. The public feel we’re doing nothing.
“As public representatives, we’re getting continuous interaction on this issue to see what’s being done. We need a speedier resolution.
“I’m not blaming anyone in the Killaloe Municipal District, but we should be moving to take ownership in the long term.”
Cathaoirleach Councillor Joe Cooney noted that the SEE had been on site early in the year. “A lot of progress has been made,” he said.
“This building is in private ownership and it’s very disappointing for everyone that the owner hasn’t taken action, but great work has been done by [Chief Fire Officer] Adrian Kelly.”
Ms Madden outlined how the owners of the building are being given a final opportunity to act.
“The fire service is doing all it can within confines of the legislation,” she said.
“This is moving as quickly as it can. The street has been cordoned since it was notified as a health and safety issue. We have to give a fair chance to the owner to fulfil their obligations. That’s nearing an end.”
Councillor Hayes repeated that he didn’t intend his remarks as a criticism of anyone.
“It’s the system that’s wrong,” he said. “Three or four deadlines have been missed by the owner. It’s unfortunate that the Council has to step in now.
“We don’t want to be left with this situation and I’m asking the Director for a plan on vacant properties in centre of Tulla.
“We will have a large number of developments on periphery when it’s the town centre that attracts business. There is a reputational risk in this because this doesn’t create a great image.”
Director of Services, Anne Haugh outlined how a renewed focus will be put on incentive schemes to tackle vacancy and dereliction.
“You’ll all be aware that social housing programme was severally impacted by Covid in 2020 and 2021,” she said.
“Delivery targets won’t be met by any local authority for new builds. Part of the response will be stronger focus on the Buy and Renew scheme to refurbish properties for social housing.
“We will, in the coming months, be putting together a programme to tackle as many properties as possible.”
Ms Haugh outlined ongoing efforts to regenerate the urban centre of Tulla and other village and towns, as well as the challenges.
“This is slow moving and difficult to progress,” she said. “We are relying on the engagement of owners. Even identifying owners can lead to a brick wall.
“There is an initiative in the Housing Department which I am leading and meeting four Municipal Districts’ staff. This involves the Derelict Sites Section, Finance and the Rural and Community Development Officers.
“We will organise workshops to look at vacancy to pick a number of town centre properties that will develop as social housing and to address regeneration. There is a dual objective in play.
“This will be a modest enough programme initially across county and takes a cross-directorate approach. I will update the council through the Municipal District meetings and management report.”
Councillor Pat Burke said that while he had voted in favour of a Part Eight application for a major social housing development, it was on the basis that attention would then focus on the core of Tulla.
“I spoke in favour of social housing,” he said, “but I also said we should shout stop after that and then address the centre of the town.
“I have an aunt who said, ‘Ye the council are destroying Tulla by giving planning permission on the edge while town centre dies’.
“A lot of the blame must come back to the owners of empty buildings and it’s not just in Tulla. There are people living a hundred miles away and they seem to have forgotten they own properties. This is a very welcome plan from Anne and Tulla is a prime example of where regeneration is needed.”
Senior Executive Officer (SEO) Morgan Lahiffe added that work is underway in the background. “The Derelict Sites Office is working on some vacant properties there,” he said.
“Some notices have gone out in recent times. I walked around with [SEO, Economic Development] Carmel Greene and we met owners of a property that is vacant. They plan to utilise Repair and Lease Scheme.
“There are big happening in the background. We will be looking to pick off more properties, but it can be a difficult issue.”
Ms Haugh said it was important to get the message about schemes and incentives to utilise vacant properties.
“There are options,” she said. “A flyer will be launched on social media to encourage owners to come and talk about what the options might be. We hope that people will engage. That’s the hardest part. A huge exercise was done on Tulla to establish ownership of certain buildings. Owners were written to. In some cases, there was absolutely no engagement or the owners couldn’t be identified.”
Councillor Hayes thanked the executives for the update. “This is a critical issue,” he said.
‘The new national Rural Development Strategy says we can’t continue to develop on the edges without considering town centres.
“In some cases, the schemes are not up to standard and the funding may not be sufficient. I hope the government will look at this in a different way to resolve the problem in all towns and villages not just Tulla.”

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