RESIDENTS of an historic area of Ennis are vowing to “fight to the last” against plans for a new housing development which has been given the green light by Clare County Council.
They are now preparing an appeal to An Bord Pleanala following the granting of planning permission to Eko Integrated Services Ltd for the ‘Buttermarket Development’ of residential units and a cafe with digital working hub at the Drumbiggle Road, Buttermarket Street and Simm’s Lane. The site is in an Architectural Conservation Area of Ennis.
The initial application had sought to build 46 units, however this has been reduced to 37.
The plans include a new apartment building on Drumbiggle Road increasing from two storeys to four storeys over-semi basement with a fifth floor set back on the south west corner.
This building will incorporate 26 two-bedroom units, four one-bedroom units and one three-bedroom unit.
The development will also see the construction of a new two-storey terrace of six houses to replace the existing vacant buildings on Buttermarket Street.
Earlier proposals for apartments overhead the cafe / work space have been omitted from the plans.
There will also be a central landscaped square, with permission also granted for 23 car parking spaces at semi basement level and three new spaces at street level; 50 bicycle spaces in the semi basement with additional 30 bicycle spaces at ground level and a central landscaped space west facing which opens to the stone facade of the Buttermarket building.
The site is currently unused with four vacant terraced cottages to the north on Buttermarket Street, which the developers are seeking to demolish as part of the plans.
According to Eko the new development “is an opportunity to bring a new vibrancy to this community in Ennis” Assessing the application, planners for the local authority determined that the “high quality contemporary design” proposed “will enhance the suburban character of the area and have a positive impact on the public realm”.
However, local residents opposed to the development believe the council got it wrong and planning permission should not have been granted.
An objection lodged on behalf of the residents by Stephen Loftus during the council planning process included a petition with 130 signatures.
Mr Loftus insists that the residents are still opposed, confirming they are preparing their appeal.
They have “serious concerns” about the size of the development alongside fears the area could attract anti-social behaviour and bring even more traffic into the already busy area.
They say the proposal does not provide nearly enough car parking, with plans for even more housing developments throughout Ennis expected to lead to greater demand. Residents are also worried about the possibility of the site being acquired for social housing.
The site had previously been earmarked as a car park, while 2005 plans for an apartment and retail development were later overturned by An Bord Pleanala.
The residents believe that the lands would be an ideal location for a car park facility for the town, or housing for older people.
Mr Loftus points to recent reports of a potential deficit of 2,000 parking spaces in Ennis, saying, “The car park was needed back in 2001, surely there is a greater need for one now.”
Bernie Loftus, who has lived in the area for more than five decades, describes the proposals for the area as “ridiculous.
“We want something done to the area, we don’t want it left as it is and are not against it being developed. We are quite happy for something to go in there, but what they are proposing is outrageous. It’s nearly a five storey apartment block which is ridiculous.”
She says that the council have not taken their concerns into consideration when making its decision.
“They didn’t address any of our issues, only the presence of bats. They were more worried about the bats than they were about the people living in the community, we don’t matter, our lives don’t matter, the bats matter more.”
Ferdie O’Donoghue adds, “The biggest problem is going to be the parking, they would need at least 100 more spaces. They put in a condition of a planning contribution of €12,000 to the council because of the shortfall of parking, but money is no good.
“Six days a week this place is full of traffic. You have traffic coming from Kilmaley, the Showgrounds, the rugby club, the hospital, the sports centre and hundreds of houses, coming up and down all the time.”
The community is particularly worried about the possibility of anti-social behaviour in the area, he says.
He recalls how another block of apartments in the area had been the scene for anti-social behaviour in the past before its eventual demolition 20 years ago.
Voicing his vehement opposition to the proposal, he says, “we will fight to the last”.
Clare County Council granted planning permission for the development subject to 26 conditions.
Assessing the application, the planners’ report concluded, “This proposal would afford a satisfactory standard of amenity to future residents, and it would be compatible with the visual and residential amenities of the area.
“The site would be capable of being accessed and serviced satisfactorily. The ecological interest of the locality would be safeguarded.
“The proposal would thus accord with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, and I recommend that planning permission is granted.”
Among the conditions of planning permission, an agreement must be entered into with the planning authority that restricts all residential units permitted to first occupation by individual purchasers ie those not being a corporate entity, and/or by those eligible for the occupation of social and/or affordable housing, including cost rental housing.
This is to “restrict new housing development to use by persons of a particular class or description to ensure an adequate choice and supply of housing, including affordable housing, in the common good.”
Contributions of €164,250.40 in respect of public infrastructure and facilities benefiting the development as well as €12,000 in respect of a shortfall in car parking spaces is to be paid to the council before development. Cash bonds totalling €185,000 are also to be paid.
Details of the occupancy of the proposed cafe including hours of operation are to be submitted to the planning authority for approval prior to occupation, and the cafe is not be used as a standalone takeaway/fast food outlet. The construction of the development will be subject to a detailed phasing agreement.
Before commencement of the development the applicants must also provide revised plans showing the provision of three integrated ‘bat tubes’ to be built, a revised lighting plan with regard to the Bat Conservation Ireland Guidelines and Bat Conservation Trust guidance and revised plans with additional planting to provide a tree line / buffer zone.
The conditions also state the proposed parking spaces along Buttermarket Lane are not to prevent vehicular access to any of the rear entrances to existing properties on Carmody Street.
A report lodged with the planning authority as part of the application on behalf of Eko states, “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 development is an opportunity to bring a new vibrancy to this community in Ennis.”