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Mayor Ann Norton with local residents, Ferdie O Donoghue, Bernie and Brian Loftus, and Stephen and Bernie Loftus who are opposed to the proposed development of forty apartments and six houses at Simms Lane, Drumbiggle, Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly

Residents vow to fight Drumbiggle development

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RESIDENTS of a historic part of Ennis have pledged to fight a proposed new housing development “tooth and nail”.
At an on-site briefing over the ‘Buttermarket Development’, a number of residents told Mayor of Ennis, Ann Norton of their concerns about the plan. If granted permission, it would see a total of 46 homes, a café and a digital hub built on a site that fronts onto Drumbiggle road, Buttermarket Street and Simm’s Lane.
The briefing took place on Tuesday evening and was also attended for a time by Councillor Mark Nestor. It heard from a number of residents who have submitted detailed objections to Clare County Council, as well as a petition with 130 signatures.
Residents recalled how Áras Uí Cochlainn, a block of apartments in the area, had been the scene of some anti-social behaviour, before eventually being demolished around two decades ago. They also pointed out that site in question has been the subject of intense interest in the intervening years.
In the early 2000s, it was earmarked for the development of a car park. In 2005, the lands were the subject of an application for an apartment and retail development. Permission was granted by Ennis Town Council, but overturned following an appeal to An Bord Pleanála and the site has lain vacant for more than a decade and a half.
Current concerns centre on the possibility that some, or all, of the proposed 40 apartments and six houses could be acquired for social housing.
Residents also expressed concerns over the design, visual impact, scale and density of the development, which would be up to four storeys in height, and the provision of parking.
“This could become a magnet for anti-social behaviour,” said Ferdie O’Donoghue.
“There are many older people living locally. The level of anti-social behaviour is already out of control and nothing is being done to address it. If you look at what has happened in the west side of Ennis, this is where social housing has been concentrated.
“Most people living in those houses are absolutely fine, but it only takes one or two people to create big problems.”
Stephen Loftus added that while the plans have been submitted by a private company, Eko Integrated Services Ltd, residents are concerned the site may be sold and the development acquired for social housing.
In response, Councillor Norton explained the social housing process and the various agencies involved.
“The fear element is very unfair on residents,” she said. “When you look at what was there, it was demolished for a reason. Why go back and do that again?”
Bernie Loftus, who has lived in the area for more than 50 years, said that even a scaled-back housing development would not get support.
“People are being forced out of the town centre because of anti-social behaviour,” she said. “We will fight this tooth and nail. We all want something to be done with the site, it’s derelict so long. It would be ideal for accommodation for the elderly.”
Councillor Norton agreed that accommodation for older people, or for those with disabilities, would be welcome on the site.
“There are so many young people with disabilities who have to live in nursing homes,” she said. “This could be an ideal town-centre location for purpose-built housing.”
Continuing to outline the grounds of residents’ opposition, Mr O’Donoghue said the proposed provision of parking was inadequate.
“If everyone living there has a car, that’s one thing,” he said. “You’d probably have two cars for every home. You’ve a café and a hub and I’d say that 120-150 parking spaces could be needed.
“As it is, there’s a major lack of parking in Ennis. There was a plan to make that site a car park and that’s what residents are in favour of. There’s also a major traffic issue in the Drumbiggle area as it is, and it can’t cater for more traffic.”
Mrs Loftus added that the fact that the site is in an Archaeological Conservation Area (ACA) has also caused concerns. “This is an area that must be preserved and protected,” she said.
“An Bord Pleanála emphasised this in their report [on the previous apartment application]. These blocks are more suited to the edge of a city than the centre of a town. They would be just around the corner from Parnell Street, which has been redeveloped in keeping with its heritage and history, and would look totally out of place.”
Mr O’Donoghue said residents would “fight it to the last, not matter what we have to do”. “People having to leave the town centre is not the solution to the housing problem,” he said.
He also noted that despite support being sought from all seven members of the Ennis Municipal District, only two had attended the briefing. “Some have given us valid reasons for not attending,” Mrs Loftus added, “but there are two who have had no contact whatsoever with us.”
The mayor told residents she has spoken with planners and is cognisant of local concerns.
“I have a strong belief that everyone has the right to live in their homes in comfort and not in fear,” she said.
The plans, which were lodged last month with Clare County Council, are the subject of four objections. Among those is a submission from Patrick Conboy and Mary Burke, owners of a property on Carmody Street, formerly Smyth’s shop. They said they welcomed the development of the derelict space, but objected to the current proposal on nine ground, including the density, its “overbearing nature”, size, scale and bulk and parking provision.
Gary Langvirand and Mary Collins of Buttermarket Street also objected. They said that while they are pleased to see development, they believe the buildings proposed are too large for the site and not in keeping with the existing buildings within the ACA. Their submission also raised concerns about density and overshadowing. Alternative proposals for the site are put forward including townhouses for first-time buyers or an “over 55 community”.
The submission added that they “are prepared to be open minded and flexible and come up with ideas that allows [sic] for everyone to fall into a win-win situation”. “The key to this development is balance,” the submission stated. “Ennis is a beautiful town and “townies” are very proud of it – we would like to continue to be”.
The developers, in their application, said the project will offer “an opportunity to bring a new vibrancy to this community”.
In a report lodged with the application, Eko Integrated Services Ltd said: “The development has been designed to meet the demand for high quality, sustainable homes in Ennis and is designed to integrate with the existing context. At a time when there is unprecedented demand for housing, a mixture of apartments and town houses was considered appropriate for this site. The digital hub and cafe will further enhance the development as an attractive place to live and work.”
The developers added that: “The proposed development has the potential to re-invigorate the area. The public space, the cafe and digital hub will help integrate the residential development with the wider community. Existing shops, pubs and cafes in the area will benefit from additional footfall around the development.”
August 18 has been given by planners as an indicative decision date on the application.

by Fiona McGarry

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