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Councillor Cillian Murphy asked for a breakdown of all the services offered, and the staffing levels relevant to each of those services.

Opporutnity knocks for Clare towns with new national policy

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A NEW national policy focused on promoting the vibrancy of town centres should be “a top line priority for everyone in the West Clare District”.

That’s the view of the district Cathaoirleach, Councillor Cillian Murphy, who has asked that town teams be supported to represent their areas and drawn down government funding and support.

The Town Centre First Policy was unveiled last month by the Department of Housing and outlines a number of actions to promote urban centres through the appointment of Town Regeneration Officers, investment, and training for town teams.

Councillor Murphy noted that the name of the policy was “quite misleading”.

“This applies to all of our towns and villages,” he said.

“The policy will prove to be the single most important document for the sustainability and viability of rural towns.”

He said that given that the policy refers to the role of town teams, there might be an opportunity for an early roll out of this element of Town Centre First.

“There might be an opportunity for us to steal a march and informally pull together the community people that are already active, rather than waiting,” he said.

The Fianna Fáil member also urged that responsibility for the policy would not be left to a single Council directorate. “It would be wrong to leave this to a single directorate,” he said.

“This should be an organisational goal for the Council. If it’s left to one directorate, it won’t be a priority for others. It should be a top line priority for everyone in the West Clare District.”

The motion was backed by Councillor Joe Garrihy.

“I agree with every single word,” he said. “This strategy has the capacity to be transformative in many areas. It is a signal to private investors that investing in towns is smart.

“It can sometimes be difficult to get people to work together as a collective in communities, but we are on a journey in the right direction.”

The Fine Gael member asked if “cooperating parishes” might make a suitable vehicle for the draw down of funding. “This is the signal that private investment is looking for,” Councillor Garrihy remarked. “This is a very important motion.”

Councillor Shane Talty added that a model for town teams already exists in Ennistymon, Kilrush and Scariff.

“We have three town teams and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

“The team in Ennistymon has been working with Clare Local Development Company (CLDC) and the Council. We also have a network of community groups. Can they be supported to access funding? It does require a cross-directorate approach.”

Councillor Ian Lynch was also supportive.

“I am slightly disappointed that an opportunity was presented to the council, but the merits of town teams were not acknowledged,” he said.

“People were asking what the role of the Council would be if there were town teams. I’m delighted that the opportunity is now back to the fore.

“Our teams need to be revived and refocused. Some communities can struggle, but they are essential if we want to deliver. Community groups are key.”

Director of Services Leonard Cleary agreed that the policy is significant.

“It is a very important policy of government,” he said. “Our management team have discussed it and are very committed.”

Mr Cleary expressed some reservations about the capacity to deliver on the policy objectives, without an appropriate increase in staff resources.

“I understand that resources are coming along with the policy and will be significant,” he said.

“We have a capacity issue because we are ambitious and fairly stretched. It’s great to get capital funds, but we also need a staff resource allocation.

“There is a sterling performance from the West Clare Municipal District staff. I am keen not to have a straw break the camel’s back. I’m a little cautious until I see boots on the ground in terms of staffing resources.”

Councillor Murphy acknowledged the demands on staff.

“I appreciate the pressure on resources and all of our staff and Rural Development Officers are doing great work,” he said.

“We have the community groups on the ground and they will really benefit from more support.”

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