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Negative impact downplayed after county plan deferral

THE possible negative impact of the deferral the new County Development Plan (2022-2028) for seven months has been played down by the councillor who proposed the move.

Councillor Cillian Murphy, who tabled the motion to invoke a new law that takes account of the impact of Covid-19, said that the net delay will be just three months. He added that the deferral is an opportunity to final alternatives to national policies that many fear will do irrevocable damage to rural areas.

Last week, the deferral secured unanimous support, with some concerns raised about the potential impact on the county town, which will see both its Local Area Plan (LAP) and Ennis 2040 strategy deferred.

“Because the Forward Planning team had actually started the County Development Plan process early, what we’re looking at, in real terms, is a delay of around three months,” Councillor Murphy told The Champion. “I respect the concerns of Ennis members but I don’t believe this will cause any untoward issues.”

The West Clare member’s comments follow criticism from prominent chartered building surveyor Fergus Merriman, who said Ennis is now missing development opportunities. Councillor Murphy said he would be “gobsmacked if any project for Ennis didn’t go ahead because of the deferral”.

The deferral, which was originally proposed by 11 councillors, was allowed in strict accordance with The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2021, on the basis that consultation on the county plan was disrupted by the pandemic.  However, rural councillors have made no secret of their concerns over what the provisions of the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) could mean when transposed into the new plan for Clare.

“I think, for many the reality of these national and regional documents was crystalised when they saw written down in black and white for the first time what impact the key principles of national policy, such as the NPF and the RSES, around distribution of future population and household growth would have on our rural settlements,” Councillor Murphy said. “And it makes for extremely grim reading, if we are to blithely adhere to national policy, there is a real danger that we will miss out on this once in several generations opportunity to deliver a more sustainable future for rural and coastal Clare.”

Like several of his rural colleagues, the Kilkee man has raised particular concerns over population projections.

“This planned for lack of projected population growth across a large swathe of rural Clare is the antithesis of sustainable development,” he said, “and it’s extremely hard not to see these population allocations and housing targets for what they are – a national policy of premeditated rural cleansing. It will impact on our future ability to get departmental funding to develop basic infrastructure like waste water treatment, to build social housing, to extend or modernise our schools and public amenities for many of our smaller settlements.” Councillor Murphy said he would be unable to stand over any development plan which would do “such irrevocable damage” to rural areas.

Councillor Johnny Flynn, whose support for the deferral was given “reluctantly”, insisted the delay is unnecessary. “We had 194 public submissions, 25,000 hits on the council’s website, participation from four secondary and 27 primary schools. We notified 70 groups about an issues paper and engaged with 33,” he said. “The consultation has been exceptional.”

“It is hard to see what can be achieved in seven months,” he added.

Councillor Murphy told The Champion a working group will be set up to examine issues at municipal district level. He said he raised the matter with Minister Heather Humphreys on her visit last week and also spoke with groups including the GAA and Grow Remote.

He added that a crucial issue will be the support of Clare’s Oireachtas members. “To be honest,” he said, “we wouldn’t be here if they had questioned the terms of the NPF more robustly. We need joined up thinking and we need someone like the Minister for Rural and Community Development around the table with other ministers to see how we can plan for rural Ireland.”

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