THE war of words between Ennis 2040 DAC and Save Ennis Town has heated up in recent days with Ennis 2040 DAC responding to claims made by the voluntary group about the Abbey Street Car Park in Ennis. The claims came at the start of an archaeological dig at the car park last week, ahead of controversial plans to develop the area. The Save Ennis Town group had described the re-development plans as “destructive” to the town.
The ‘big dig’ as it is being referred to locally, are excavations undertaken by Archaeology and Built Heritage Ltd, under licence, to investigate the ground at the site and obtain archaeological and heritage information.
It is hoped the findings will shed light on the archaeological heritage of the site before any proposed development, and will inform the design process of a landmark building.
Ennis 2040 Designated Activity Company (DAC), the entity responsible for delivering nine transformational projects for Ennis town, has rejected a number of claims made by Save Ennis Town.
In a statement to The Clare Champion, it branded many of the claims as “misleading and untrue”.
It also rejected the claim made by Save Ennis Town, that no public consultation had taken place.
Chair of Save Ennis Town, Gearóid Mannion, says Clare County Council and Ennis2040 DAC had refused to engage with the group. They instead gave an assurance that there would be “ample time for engagement with stakeholders” this September.
Mr Mannion said, “there has been no engagement with local business owners or the people of Ennis, and instead, there are shovels in the ground…what does that say about engagement with the people of Ennis, or about local democracy?”
In its statement, Ennis 2040 DAC said it will hold public consultation on the future development of the car park in late autumn 2023, when plans become available, giving everyone the opportunity to have their say.
It also highlighted the Economic and Spatial Strategy which was completed in 2021 “by international experts on behalf of Clare County Council after two years of study, analysis and extensive stakeholder consultations with local representatives, local communities and businesses”.
Furthermore, Save Ennis Town claimed that the transfer of the ownership of publicly owned land at Abbey Street Car Park to a private company was of “very significant concern” and it was “worrying” that the future implications of this were not adequately addressed by Clare County Council or Ennis 2040 DAC. It also said that members of the public highlighted to them what they see as a possible “subversion of democracy” whereby a small number of elected representatives who are sitting members of Ennis 2040 DAC are facilitating the ceding of public land to a private company. In response to its claim, Ennis 2040 DAC said it is a 100% owned subsidiary of Clare County Council, and is a “non-for profit and members of the board consist of private, public and local elected representatives who give their time voluntarily.”
In June 2021, councillors voted to approved the setting up of Ennis 2040 DAC and a loan of €10 million to deliver the Economic and Spatial Strategy. It said the DAC structure is designed to attract employment and investment opportunities to Ennis which has been successful in developing town and city regeneration projects nationwide including Limerick and Ennis.
Save Ennis Town had claimed that many Ennis residents have expressed fears the development is a repeat of the “ill-conceived and expensive” development in the Market area which they say, is now used as a car park, and “the citizens of the town do not need, nor do they deserve, a second white elephant.”
Ennis 2040 DAC responded, “this is an entirely separate development and bears no relation to any of the Ennis 2040 projects.”
Ennis 2040 DAC also rejected the claim made by Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) that the proposed development was “unnecessary” and “another waste of public money.” Responding to the claim there will be a loss of 25 parking spaces and a loss to the Council of income, it said: “Every effort has been made to minimise disruption over the short period of these excavations. Loss of income from parking should also be minimal as 60 per cent of the car park is allocated to permit holders.”
Cllr Flynn had claimed that 25 scarce car parking spaces will be lost over the five and a half weeks of the dig, as well as a loss to the Council of parking charges income. He also said the loss of turnover to affected businesses during the period of disruption, and damage to the public area were of serious concern.
Save Ennis Town also pointed out retail cannot exist without parking nor would an anchor tenant commit to the proposed building without parking.
Ennis 2040 DAC said its mission is to attract inward investment that will allow Ennis to fulfil its potential whilst retaining and safeguarding its heritage. In conjunction with Clare County Council, it said it will “build new homes, retail outlets and commercial spaces and create the connections, activity and economic vibrancy that will knit the core town centre together and celebrate its amazing heritage and open spaces.”
When it revealed its plans for the car park, it said it would result in 100 permanent jobs and another 200 construction jobs while creating a town centre footfall of 20,000 shoppers a week.
Sharon Dolan D'Arcy
Sharon Dolan D'Arcy is originally from Ennis. Her work as a print journalist has appeared in a number of regional publications. She worked as court reporter at The Sligo Weekender newspaper and is a former editor of The Athenry News and Views. She covers West Clare news.