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Councillor PJ Kelly has called for references to 'in-fill sites' to be removed from the Draft Clare County Development Plan 2023-2029.

Population plan the ‘end of rural Clare’

Councillors want legal advice on means to challenge NDP projections

A COUNCILLOR has blasted proposed population allocations for the county saying it “effectively will be the end of rural Clare”.
Legal advice is to be sought by Clare councillors on the constitutionality of proposed population allocations for the county set out in the National Planning Framework.
Councillor PJ Kelly at the monthly meeting of Clare County Council insisted the population targets in the framework, which has to be adhered to in drawing up the County Development Plan, are “discriminatory” and “effectively will be the end of rural Clare”.
He was backed by Councillor Joe Killeen who, while welcoming projected population growth in Ennis and the Limerick / Shannon Metropolitan area, said “the difficulty is for the remainder of the county the population projections are very low for Clare”.
He said this puts services for communities in rural Clare “in jeopardy” with “a further diminishing of what is there already”.
In response to Councillor Kelly’s motion seeking legal advice, Liam Conneally director of service outlined the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 introduced the requirement for a Core Strategy to be prepared as part of all County Development Plans.
“The purpose of the Core Strategy is to articulate a medium to longer term quantitatively based strategy for the spatial development of the County and in so doing to demonstrate that the Plan and its objectives are consistent with national and regional development objectives set out in the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES).”
He stated he was “satisfied that the Core Strategy as included in the Pre-Draft Clare County Development Plan has had regard to all statutory requirements and in that regard is legally compliant”.
The response was collated following consultation with the County Solicitor “who has advised that it is difficult to see how a quantitative-based strategy for the spatial development of the county could be argued to be unconstitutional in a general sense”.
Councillor Kelly’s motion was backed by the elected members. Councillor Clare Colleran Molloy criticised the response stating a letter from the county solicitor detailing legal advice should have been provided.
“What we are asking is do we have any hook to fight what is causing great problems around the county?”
Councillor Cillian Murphy commented, “The legality and constitutionality has to be tested if we want a County Development Plan that is fair to all communities in the county and not just accept a dictate from central government.”
He pointed out the targets were developed pre-Covid. Councillor Joe Cooney stated that the council “has to explore all options”.
CEO of Clare County Council Pat Dowling stated the council executive shares the concerns of the elected representatives, and that the population projections are laid out at government level.
“The future of rural Ireland rests with government policy, we have been thumping the table about rural Clare for as many years as I am here,” he said.
He cautioned that constitutional challenges are “a big fight” which could take years.
However, he continued, “That is not to say we are going to bow to what we are given.”
He advised that the best course of action is “to complete our work and set out what we believe are realistic targets and put that to government”.
He insisted he wants the county to grow adding, “We are ambitious, but we also have to be pragmatic and realistic.
“We can’t talk about getting another 100,000 people here but we also have to set out bold targets.”
He said it would be more beneficial to argue the detail of the County Development Plan with government and national planners rather than the legalities.
“When it comes to the details we sign off on, if the details are contrary to the planning regulations then let battle begin then.”
Councillor Pat Daly suggested that the county’s Oireachtas members be invited to a special meeting of council to discuss the issue.
Councillor Tony O’Brien said he was “heartened” by the CEO, adding, “It’s our plan, let’s produce our plan the way we want it and let’s throw the ball in and see where it takes us.”
Councillor Johnny Flynn voiced his support for the motion. The council executive agreed to provide more detail to the councillors at a later date.

by Jessica Quinn

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